SSE Graduate Studies Committee

October 4, 2011
10:05 AM – 11:30 AM


Present: D. Gaver, B. Hall for K. Muneoka, V. John, B. Rosenheim, C. Richards-Zawacki, A. Kurganov, J. Perdew, B. Nastasi, J. Tasker, C. Burdsal, and S. Borrego

Absent: M. Fink

New Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee

Dean Burdsal opened the meeting by calling for nominations for a new chair of the Graduate Studies Committee. She noted that one of the duties of the chair has been to approve course change forms, however after this meeting that duty will cease as a new Curriculum Committee is being formed that will take over that responsibility. Jeff Tasker volunteered and was named chair. Dean Burdsal also asked for nominations for two grad student nominations as ex oficio members. Peter Stapor was nominated by D. Gaver and Debra Karhson was nominated by J. Tasker. Invitations will be made to the nominated students.

Dean Burdsal’s Two Conferences

Dean Burdsal gave an update on two conferences she will be attending the coming weeks: HENAAC and CIRTL. HENAAC is a non-profit organization supporting careers in STEM. It has recently changed its organization name to “Great Minds in STE” and promotes STEM careers in underserved communities. The conference will consist of a career fair, a poster session, and other educational programs. Dean Burdsal will be attending with Dean Wee. UCF and FIU are the host universities this year, but Tulane will be a host university in 2 years.

This year’s CIRTL forum is “Teaching, Learning and Research: Preparation of the Nation’s Future Faculty.” It will focus on identifying and assessing goals of professional development programs, best practices in professional development, and a poster session on improving teaching and measuring student learning. The forum will be held in Madison, WI.

Proposal Submission

The provost is providing funding to support graduate recruitment. Dean Burdsal provided all committee members with a copy of the announcement from the provost’s office and encouraged all departments to submit a proposal. The deadline is this Friday, October 7. Several committee members stated that they had already received the message via email and were in the process of submitting a proposal.

ESL and Writing Courses

Dean Burdsal gave the committee an update on new ESL and writing courses for the spring. A new ESL course was added this fall for incoming international students to focus on their speaking skills (SCEN 7650). There are currently 15 students enrolled, but the demand for the course was 26. As a result, there will be another section of the speaking skills course offered in the spring, in addition to the ESL writing skills course. Several committee members inquired as to how students were selected for the course and whether it was mandatory. It was explained that for the speaking skills course, all new international TAs are expected to attend, and the instructor then does an assessment on the first night of class to determine if any of the students do not need the course. The ESL writing skills course is optional. V. John inquired as to the possibility of self-paced language learning programs.

Another new course for the spring is a technical (scientific) writing course (SCEN 7000). The course has been approved, but the instructor has not yet been selected. This is a course for domestic students. J. Tasker was involved in the development of the course, and he stated that all PhDs in Neuroscience (about 5 per year) will be required to take the course.

Special Topics Courses

Dean Burdsal addressed the need for special topics courses. It is a mechanism for departments to teach a course once without needing committee approval. Undergrad only special topic courses are usually 3000 or 4000 level, mixed undergrad/grad are 6000 level, and grad only are 7000 level. She then gave each department a handout and asked that each department review the handout and respond to her with any updates that need to be made in order that each department have a special topics course for graduate students.

Course Approvals

The committee was asked to vote on course approvals, which would then require signatures from the committee chair and Dean Burdsal. This is the last time the committee will be doing course approvals, as a new Curriculum Committee is being formed to handle all course approvals for undergrad and grad courses in the future. Dean Burdsal then announced each course and gave a brief course description and summary of the syllabus and grading criteria. The following courses were all approved by unanimous vote:

  • EENS 6151
  • EENS 6070
  • EENS 6150
  • CENG 7870
  • BMEN 3300/6300
  • BMEN 3400/6400
  • BMEN 3420/6420
  • BMEN 3780-6780
  • BMEN 4310/6310
  • EENS 4280/6280
  • EENS 4820/6820
  • BMEN 3932/6932

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy as defined in the Graduate Catalog is when a student has “completed course requirements, satisfied any departmental teaching and research requirements, passed a general examination, and submitted a prospectus of the dissertation approved by the student’s dissertation committee.” In an attempt to clear up graduate registration, Interim Dean Schmel sent out an email at the beginning of the semester requesting that only graduate students who had been admitted to candidacy be registered in the old 999 graduate research credits, now 9990. This 3 credit hour research course would give the students full time status while also reducing their fees to the part-time rate. For students that have not yet been admitted to candidacy but have finished coursework, students should be registered for 9 credits of 7000 research. For example, a student who has passed prelims who spends several semesters supported and doing research but hasn’t yet been admitted to candidacy should be registered in 9 credit hours each fall and spring semester to ensure he stays in full-time status. Dean Burdsal then gave each committee member a list of their department’s 7000 level research courses. She asked that each department review them and respond to her if they need to create a research course or adjust the hours of a current course so each department’s schedule has a 7000 level research course with 1-9 credits.

This fall semester, most students have been registered correctly. There were a few exceptions made. Students will be notified of this policy again before the spring registration period, and it will be strictly enforced.

Dean Burdsal noted that one problem with this policy is there are many different/department-specific definitions of status, and more specifically, that prospectus approval is not everyone’s “ideal” landmark. V. John commented that if a student took a few years doing research before turning in his prospectus approval and being admitted to candidacy, he would have to register for 9 hours of 7000 level research each semester, which would then greatly inflate his number of credit hours on his transcript. J. Tasker asked why admission to candidacy had to come after the prospectus approval versus after successfully passing the preliminary exam. B. Hall commented that in Cell and Molecular Biology students were congratulated on being accepted to candidacy after passing the preliminary exam. Dean Burdsal responded that she thought this was a valid point and would address it with Dean Altiero and respond to the committee at the next meeting.

Progress Towards Degree

Dean Burdsal addressed the issue of progress towards degree. She told the committee members that the Dean’s office has become aware of a number of students in a number of departments that have been on the books for years without making progress towards completion of degree. As a result, two problematic issues that have come up with these students are: 1) sometimes they do not stay continuously enrolled, and 2) often no one notices that the tenure on their coursework has expired (5 years for masters students and 7 years for PhD students).

Dean Burdsal referred to the Graduate Catalog. She reminded committee members that as stated in the Catalog, “the University reserves the right to change any of its courses and charges without advance notice and to make such changes applicable to students already registered as well as to new students.” Thus all students are subject to the terms of the current Graduate Catalog. However, she noted that most issues of timing (tenure of courses) hasn’t changed since before Katrina. Dean Burdsal also mentioned that continuous enrollment is required as students work towards their degrees, i.e. 7000 level research courses before candidacy and 9000 level dissertation research courses after candidacy. Finally, she mentioned the B- report that is sent out from the Dean’s office to each department at the end of the semester, which could result in probation for the student.

Next, Dean Burdsal referred to the Guidelines for Graduate Assistants. She pointed out that for a student to be eligible for reappointment, he must be in good academic standing and making progress towards a degree, and in the opinion of the department or School, have provided satisfactory service. If for some reason a department should want to terminate an RA or TA prior to the end of the appointment period, the department must show cause and provide the student with a statement of reasons and a statement of intent to dismiss.

With regard to the Tuition Scholarship Policy, all supported students get 100% tuition scholarship for the fall and spring semesters and a 100% tuition waiver for the summer semester to ensure continuous registration. Following termination of University support, students are then subject to the step-down tuition structure which allows 100% tuition scholarship the first academic semester following termination, 65% the second semester, and 35% the third semester. In the fourth semester the student is expected to pay full tuition. In all instances, students are responsible for payment of all fees.

In an effort to ensure all students are making satisfactory progress towards degree, Dean Burdsal commented that one consideration for the future would be to institute a formal notification to the Graduate Dean of student progress. It was noted by several committee members that departments currently require students to submit yearly progress reports, but the practice can still make it difficult to assess whether satisfactory progress is being made. Dean Burdsal said the Dean’s office would support the departments should they determine a student is not making satisfactory progress and want to dismiss the student from their program.

Graduate Recruiting

Graduate recruiting was discussed. Again this year, SSE will be purchasing names and email address of GRE test takers based on criteria determined by each department. S. Borrego will consult with each department’s staff and/or graduate advisors to review the criteria from last year and make any updates. The email addresses will be purchased in mid-October, and email messages will be sent from the Dean’s office to the prospective students in November before Thanksgiving and in December before the winter break.

Dean Burdsal informed the committee that SSE has renewed its membership with GEM and will once again use the listing to target underrepresented minorities and encourage their application to Tulane. A. Kurganov and C. Richards-Zawacki both protested that last year the Dean’s office forced them into inviting GEM applicants to campus that didn’t meet their minimum department requirements. One applicant didn’t show on the day of the visit, and the other had trouble getting a reimbursement for their travel expenses. Neither applicant joined Tulane.

The committee members all agreed that they did not like how the GEM visits were handled last year, but they would be glad to invite applicants if they meet the departmental requirements. Dean Burdsal proposed that the GEM listing be divided by department and the names be sent to the individual departments for screening. Several committee members inquired that if there were no good GEM applicants whether the money could be used to invite other applicants that self-selected on their applications that they are from an underrepresented minority group or an international candidate. Dean Burdsal stated that she would bring this up with Dean Altiero.

International recruitment was also discussed. Although it can be difficult, Dean Altiero would like to see a stronger showing of international students among the SSE grad students. Dean Burdsal suggested that a natural way to increase international marketing and recruitment would be through the international faculty members. She asked that the committee members encourage international faculty to use their networks in their home countries to help increase international applicants.

A. Kurganov brought up the fact that there were difficulties last year in getting international students admitted. Dean Burdsal suggested that the Dean’s office meet with the OISS office to try and improve the situation.

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