UAS approves changes to scholarship definitions for GVSU faculty

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - The University Academic Senate (UAS) convenes Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 inside the DeVos Center on Grand Valley's Pew Campus.

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - The University Academic Senate (UAS) convenes Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 inside the DeVos Center on Grand Valley's Pew Campus.

Devin Dely

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Grand Valley State University’s University Academic Senate (UAS) met Friday, April 6, to discuss a motion by the Executive Committee of the Senate (ECS) regarding scholarship and how it is defined across GVSU colleges. The ECS had been debating this for some time and recently passed the proposal within its own committee. On Friday, at a meeting in the John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering, the UAS voted in favor of the motion.

“Over the years, we’ve been trying to align the colleges,” said Felix Ngassa, chemistry professor and chair of the UAS. “In the past, each college had their own guidelines (regarding scholarship). Two or three years ago, we created the University Personnel Review Committee (UPRC), which is kind of like a provost committee. So, there is someone there from every college who can make sure that college is aligned with the university policy for personnel, and one of those things is defining scholarship.”

Ngassa said the proposal was “a list of guidelines” for defining scholarship.

“As a professor of chemistry, if I’m going to be evaluated on my output and everything that I’ve done, that should not be completely different from someone in philosophy,” he said. “Although in chemistry we have some specific discipline things which will require that our scholarship is (slightly) different, we have an umbrella definition across the university. At least, that’s what this proposal is: It’s a list of guidelines.”

The proposal would affect nearly all GVSU colleges, with the likely exception of the Seidman College of Business due to its already-strict definitions of scholarship. It involves personnel standards and clear definitions of scholarly activity that can be applied to all colleges.  

“Every other college will be affected, but the biggest is going to be CLAS, the reason being because they have many departments,” Ngassa said. “Given the fact that they have sciences within CLAS, those departments place an emphasis on scholarship in involvement and participation of undergraduate students. Faculty know that and we like that, and it gives room for them to make changes as they see fit.”

According to Jonathan Hodge, a mathematics professor and UAS member who was present at both meetings, the proposal had to go through some amendments before being passed on Friday. Hodge said some faculty are worried about the wide-reaching nature of the change and fear that there will be unintended consequences.

“The way things are structured, it defines different categories of scholarship and scholarly activities,” he said. “It provides a framework to distinguish between, say, giving a presentation at a conference and publishing a paper. I didn’t hear a lot of disagreement about the categories being reasonable (at the meeting). There is more concern about how different activities get placed in those categories. 

“For instance, where does mentoring undergraduate research fall into that hierarchy? That’s where some of the unresolved issues lie.” 

Hodge said there were also some concerns raised about whether faculty had been given enough of an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes. An amendment made at Friday’s meeting, which would have charged ECS with creating a plan over the summer to distribute the memo detailing the proposed changes and getting feedback from faculty, was ultimately voted down by a large margin. 

Despite some reservations among faculty members, Hodge said there was a “strong vote in favor of the proposal” at the UAS meeting on Friday. Ngassa described the decision as a good move toward unifying GVSU’s colleges.

“The fear has been that we don’t want to have two Grand Valleys,” he said. “We don’t want to have a Grand Valley where colleges are in two different places in terms of scholarship. We want to be the same. So this is a step in the right direction to make sure that there’s consistency across all the colleges.” 

The next step before the proposal is implemented is for UAS to make a recommendation to the provost, who will sign it. After that, the Board of Trustees will have the final say on the new changes. If they vote in favor of the proposal, changes will begin in the fall.