ACADEMIC PLANNING COUNCIL
Minutes of September 22, 2008
3 p.m., Holmes Student Center – Room 505
Present: Alden, Cassidy, Erman, Fox, Freedman, Gorman, Gough, House, Jeris, Marcellus, Marsh, Molnar, Novak, Otieno, Prawitz, Seaver, Singh
Guests: Donna Askins, Research Associate, Office of the Provost; Jozef Bujarski, Director, Plant Molecular Biology Center; Chris McCord, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Joel Stafstrom, Acting Director, Center for Biochemical and Biophysical Studies; Carl von Ende, Acting Chair, Department of Biological Sciences
The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m. It was moved and seconded to approve the minutes of August 25, 2008, and the motion passed unanimously. John Novak, a newly elected APC representative from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, was introduced.
Chris McCord, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences introduced Carl von Ende, Acting Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences; Jozef Bujarski, Director of the Plant Molecular Biology Center; and Joel Stafstrom, Acting Director of the Center for Biochemical and Biophysical Studies. All of the programs in Biological Sciences and the centers will be discussed today.
Freedman presented the subcommittee findings for the Department of Biological Sciences. All of the reports were well written and they responded to previous reports that raised some concerns. Many of the subcommittee’s suggestions related to technical issues; there are only one or two other issues that need to be addressed.
The department context section reflected strong educational programming and research productivity, which were strengths. One of the discussion points is the funding for interdisciplinary work. The department hopes that the new research foci will increase funding opportunities. There are five research foci areas proposed, which are part of the strategic planning process: biodiversity and environmental change, cancer biology, plant stress, bioinformatics, and evolutionary biology. Cancer biology will provide collaborations within and outside the department. We already have some people in these areas, and we want to increase collaborations. The plant stress area will be connected to the Plant Molecular Biology Center. Evolutionary biology, like bioinformatics, is a broad theme across biological sciences and is starting to lead to collaborations. Part of the rationale for developing these areas is that more and more interdisciplinary research is required to address interdisciplinary problems, and it appears that there is more funding available for this type of approach. There is currently no timeline laid out for implementing these research foci. Cancer biology will play into the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center (NIPTRC). Biodiversity and environmental change would be part of an environmental studies program, for which support is developing on campus. Bioinformatics involves collaboration with computer science. The strength of these foci is that we can justify them within and outside the department, and even outside the university. These are relatively hot areas. Where would you like to see yourselves in five years? We would like to have an additional five faculty members. There will be a search for an outside chair this year, and this individual will be involved in NIPTRC. We hope to hire in the biodiversity and environmental change areas when some faculty retire. Right now the department has minimal faculty in order to move forward. The department also provides course work for general education, especially service courses for students in the College of Health and Human Sciences; enrollment in these latter courses has continued to rise. With cancer biology and environmental change we are trying to develop plans regarding faculty needs. Once the faculty needs are known, a gap analysis will be done, and this will inform hiring. It is difficult to hire good people in hot areas, but being able to hire when other institutions aren’t hiring can be beneficial. The area of environmental change has been around for a long time. As long as there is a supply of faculty, we can fill these positions. It is necessary to sometimes have more than one search to find the person who is a match for the position. In the northern Illinois area, we really don’t have much competition, and we have people whom the department can bring together to form these programs. The closest programs in our area are at Northeastern Illinois University (B.S. in Environmental Science) and graduate programs at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. They have nine plant evolutionary biologists and graduate programs (M.S. and Ph.D.) in Plant Biology and Conservation that are run through Northwestern.
The recommendations for the future include the fact that the faculty seems to be “top heavy” with tenured faculty and may need newer faculty for growth and to address the adequate management of the facilities in Anderson Hall (Human Anatomy Laboratory). There are fumes from the cadaver room. The department has heard that something is going to be done regarding this issue. There are also water issues in Anderson, and the air quality in the building is not good. Is this a matter of funding, or is it something else? Can some funds be searched for outside the university to correct this problem? Obtaining grant funding for this issue is not feasible. What about other money through donors? This is a basic maintenance issue that is part of the capital improvement budget. Last year NIU allocated $3 million for deferred maintenance at NIU, and the governor took $1.3 million from our budget. This is why NIU came up with a Campus Improvement Fee. This fee should generate $3.6 million per year for emergency repairs. This is a hard political and financial question. The department believes that there are some plans to fix the roof this coming year. The windows were fixed last fall, but the roof over the laboratory is a problem. This does influence instruction and should be part of these reports.
More details concerning the process that’s used to make assignments that accommodate the faculty who teach more versus those who do more research would be helpful. You should include your models in the report. Include information about the differential teaching loads and how the decision is made in regard to their research.
The strengths of the B.S. program include the healthy enrollment numbers and the fact that alumni report high satisfaction with their degrees. Discussion points are the quality of the undergraduates writing and the relationship between the foci areas and teacher certification. Some departments only send students who need serious help to the Writing Center. Is the Writing Center for students who are outliers in their writing ability, or is it well funded enough to help other students? The Writing Center has a broad purpose to help students and faculty in writing. Some departments require individual students to take a writing assignment to the Writing Center, and students also self-select to use the Writing Center’s services. There were questions raised about how much the department should emphasize writing and writing quality and how much the faculty could help with this issue. There are several aspects to this issue. One is students writing clear sentence structures and the second is how to write in the context of the discipline. Students tend to fall into two categories: some have poor writing skills and others use a general format usually containing quoted material. Our discipline does not use a lot of quoted material. The department is looking at how it can increase writing in the upper-division courses. There was a proposed concept paper submitted as part of the strategic planning process that pointed out that the Writing Center maxed out last year, and the proposal was to provide more funding for peer tutors and work with upper-division courses. The Department of Marketing funds a G.A. position internally to assist students with writing. This individual knows what faculty are looking for and has been fairly successful in working with our students. More students utilize this service now than in the past. This is a good idea, particularly with the upper-division courses. The department did check with its faculty regarding how much writing was required. There is a three semester sequence, and there is writing at every stage as students’ progress through the program; the writing includes laboratory reports and papers. The University Writing Project provides an opportunity to get feedback on papers that are prepared for classes that could give you some specific information about your students. This project is carried out in the spring. The department does have a capstone course and students are required to write two essays: one on what they know the most about in biology and the other is a general commentary viewpoint paper. These would be good for the writing project. In the Department of Technology we have a capstone project too, but we require our students to take ENG 308, technical writing. This has really improved their writing. The undergraduate degree has many outside requirements, but this might be something we could do. The Writing Center can do a lot, but it can’t do everything. The discipline specific writing has to be taken on by the department. Another discussion point is to include the information on how the content knowledge is assessed in the capstone course. There are three examinations, and half of the test is related to data analysis. This tests knowledge across the spectrum of biology. Is it possible to compare students across sections and years? The department already does this, and it is reported annually.
There was a question raised about teacher certification and how it related to the research foci. Historically the program has had a number of tracks but they’re not required, and students tend not to follow them. There will be five different areas, which include pre-professional and teacher certification. The other areas are pretty broad based. There will be required courses and elective courses to give students breadth. You can get a job with the baccalaureate degree in biology. The other three areas are biotechnology, environmental biology, and a research emphasis for those who want to go on to graduate school. This is how students’ interests are developing and we will suggest what these students should take. Are there any discussions about expanding your interdisciplinary approaches to make your curriculum more marketable? Some of the courses are cross-listed, which provides the breadth in the program. There are several courses in political science that are cross listed in biology. There might be students who are interested in these areas, but they are not thinking about biology per se; this might be a college wide degree that could be tailored to students’ interests. There is now a 400-level course in bioinformatics. As the program firms up the research foci, they could attach a degree to these foci. The department does plan on looking at an environmental change program, and cancer research will be at the doctoral level. New interdisciplinary degree programs are discussed in the strategic plan. Coming out of the strategic plan there is a discussion of finding landing spots for students, and there is some feeling that we need to offer more majors. The department thinks it provides a strong basic biology curriculum, and our students do have some ability to specialize. This is more a question of advertising to students and letting them know that these options are available. There is increased interest in interdisciplinary degrees because funding is constructed around interdisciplinary problems and because problems have gotten so complex that you need people from several disciplines to solve them. On the research end that is why we are creating multidisciplinary opportunities, but this is a challenge at the undergraduate level. You have to have a disciplinary view before you can have a multidisciplinary view.
One strength of the M.S. program is that it is a comprehensive program, especially given the size of the faculty. There are two options: thesis and non-thesis to meet students’ needs. The student population looks healthy, and males and females are equally represented in the program. Some graduates continue their education and are accepted into quality doctoral programs. Graduates do well in areas that require technical expertise.
Discussion points include the low response rate on the alumni survey and student writing skills. Why are alumni reports that only have one respondent reported? Is this required? This is information that is reported across all reviews, but these data are not helpful if there is only one respondent. There have been all kinds of things done to increase the response rate. The undergraduate survey has been shortened, and for whatever reason the response rate has increased this year. Sometimes departments also do their own surveys or have other means of collecting information about alumni. The department does have an annual newsletter that goes to alumni, and there has been good anecdotal feedback from the newsletter. Students seem to be more likely to respond to a departmental request than a university request. You could let alumni know that the program’s eight year review is coming up, and the department would like to hear from them. When you discuss the writing issues, it would be helpful to think about the different criteria for writing given the program level. Specific explanations of the pedagogical practices to improve writing should be included in the report.
The recommendations for the future are to provide more information about the research foci, which should help with graduate recruitment, and to state final outcomes of the assessment criteria for the thesis and non-thesis options.
The Ph.D. program section was well written. There is good representation of women in the program. The students receive awards and demonstrate achievement. Most students have presented at conferences and published before graduation, which are program strengths.
The discussion point includes the goals in the Ph.D. program should emphasize new knowledge. The current goals are almost exactly the same as the M.S. goals. The program will add the ideas of originality, creativity, and the ability to work independently to the outcomes included in the review.
The recommendation for the future is to highlight what the program is doing and disburse this information to the students.
The APC turned to the review of the centers. Both of the center reviews were well written.
One strength of the Center for Biochemical and Biophysical Studies (CBBS) is that the center has built an interdisciplinary research community. The center’s mission is to promote and support research in several departments, and there may be a way to connect this with interdisciplinary degrees. The center has close ties with the graduate programs in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry and Biochemistry and also has affiliations with faculty in psychology and family, consumer, and nutrition sciences. Do you do some programming to address this? There are weekly topical seminars that are attended by faculty and students. Ultimately, students select the slate of speakers who come, and the speakers like this process a lot. We always get good feedback from our visitors, but we don’t have documentation of that.
The center’s research and funding productivity is one of the discussion points. The productivity is good, but several retirements caused some concern about future productivity. What are the center’s plans to address this? The center is not a hiring unit, but we try to lobby for certain hires. Another discussion point is when and to what extent the center will connect with the proton center? Since this is an existing center, we are ready to aid in that process. Last Friday the center held its first seminar of the semester; the theme of the seminar was biotherapeutics. The woman who presented this seminar is already talking to us about joint research projects. Currently there is no direct role with NIPTRC, but the center is well positioned to create future hirings to link with NIPTRC. The center could organize a semester seminar program that could help further the development of NIPTRC. CBBS is well positioned to be the home for academic cancer research. Does the CBBS have any affiliation with the Rockford School of Medicine? There is not a formal affiliation, but on occasions there have been individuals from Rockford who have collaborated with CBBS members.
The future plans are comprehensive, but the subcommittee recommends adding a timeline to help accomplish these goals. What the center lists as goals are to continue what we have in place, and it also includes encouraging more faculty participation, increasing grant funding, recruiting students, etc. The center does need to address its relationship with family, consumer, and nutrition sciences. At one time the school had a strong program in bionutrition, and now it only has one person in this area. The school is doing a search right now to fill a position in this area. The center would like to maintain this connection; it is important. The center also has a certificate for graduate students who take a set of courses from many different departments. Also in regard to the proton center, one of the things being discussed is partnerships with extended stay hotels and having a nutritionist to advise patients on how to stay well during cancer treatment.
The APC turned to the discussion of the Plant Molecular Biology Center (PMBC). A strength of the center is its purpose to “coordinate, promote, and facilitate research and instruction activities relevant to plant molecular biology and plant biotechnology.” The center is successful in attracting and retaining students and faculty in the area of molecular biology, and the faculty are productive scholars. The questions from previous reviews have been addressed. In the summer program review meeting with the provost’s staff a question was raised about funding, and this issue was addressed in the review. The center is relatively small; it has five core faculty members, but it also has affiliates. The faculty and affiliates collaborate to write proposals, and the center wants to enhance the productivity of faculty to apply for more funds and write more grants. The PMBC hopes to have a connection with the proton center and to generate some research in this area in terms of plant molecular biology. The PMBC would also like to obtain some new funding for research and equipment purposes.
Recommendations for the future include the continuation of the planning for interdisciplinary work to increase funding opportunities. The PMBC faculty are very hopeful that the new plant stress research focus in the department will help increase interdisciplinary collaborations. Since industry is taking over more and more research and development, how can the center overcome the funding problems due to this changing relationship? Industries now have their own research centers and it is difficult to obtain funding for the center’s research. In the PMBC’s case, it can contact individual faculty to develop opportunities with seed groups. For example, one faculty member has been collaborating with Monsanto, and hopefully this will provide future funding opportunities.
The meeting was adjourned at 4:30 p.m.
Carolyn A. Cradduck