Physics Faculty Retreat 2001                                                                       Saturday, April 21, 2001


Jordan Goodman opened the retreat with a status report on our progress toward the goals we set last year in our Strategic Planning Session. He also reviewed the guiding vision and priorities that we developed at last year’s retreat. (See the slides from his presentation at:

  1. Steve Halperin provided a description of the recent context in which the Physics department is operating:
    1. Improved physics reputation on campus
    2. Better understanding of physics’ limited operating fund situation

(Demonstrated by “Access Funds” for the 1st time in recent memory.)

    1. Successfully competing for college and university fund

                                                              i.      New Physical Sciences Complex on the University Plan

(Must secure a major donor.)

                                                            ii.      Bill Phillips and the new AMO group

                                                          iii.      Interdisciplinary collaborations like Nano-Tech

    1. However, there is a somewhat ominous outlook nationally and on campus for the physics department if we are unsuccessful at attracting and keeping more students in our major.

                                                               i.      This problem might be mitigated somewhat through increasing the numbers:

1.      In our newly approved educational tracks (Meteorology and Education)

2.      Of double-majors

3.      Of transferring majors from Engineering and Comp Sci.

                                                             ii.      However, unless things change substantially in the National picture we should probably expect hard times ahead for Physics as a field.

(CS: 40 Faculty=2,500 Majors | Physics: 70 Faculty=190 Majors and an average of only about 15 graduating from Physics each year until this.)


  1. Began Discussion About The Current Pressing Issues Facing the Department:
    1. The Necessary Reallocation of Space for The Incoming AMO Group
    2. The Requirement of Raising TA Salaries Again To Stay Competitive With Our Peer Institutions
    3. The Need for Research Groups to Commit Support Ahead of Time for:

                                                               i.      RAs During The Year, and

                                                             ii.      TAs in the Summers

    1. Analyses of Traditional Support Services Provided by The Department: With an eye toward modernizing and streamlining operations.

(Information Technology and Network Support Services, Stores, Mechanical and Electrical Shops, Printing/Copying Center, etc.)

and Most Importantly

    1. Improving The Academic Quality of Our Program

(To Better Serve Our Customers)

                                                               i.      Teaching

                                                             ii.      Advising

                                                            iii.      Conditions for Our Students


(See the next page for a summary of faculty consensus on the above issues.)

Physics Faculty Retreat 2001                                                                Saturday, April 21, 2001 –       Page 2







The faculty consensus on reallocation of space for the incoming AMO group was that the following Criteria for the Administration’s Decision should be used:


(In order of importance.)

1        Lab and office space currently used for storage should be the first to go.

2        Reduction in space should also mean improvement in functionality.

3        Communication and consultation with those who will, or may be affected should occur as early as is possible (before a final plan is worked out).

4        Consideration should be given to bring faculty offices closer together and to provide natural areas where faculty can interact informally.

5    When possible parity and historical claims to space should be considered.



The faculty consensus was that we must raise TA salaries again this coming year:


·        TA salaries will be increased by at least $2,000 in the upcoming year.

·        The mechanism to be used (in order of preference) should be:

a.       Securing additional university funds for this purpose (unlikely), or

b.      By cutting back on the total number of TAs.

·        A pilot study of Web-based electronic grading should also be carried out.

(Some discussion also surrounded the possibility of adjusting the difference between the seniority based TA pay rates, but no consensus was reached on this point.)



The consensus of the faculty was that Research Groups should commit support ahead of time for RAs, and TAs in the summers.

·        It was observed that this was already the case at many peer institutions.

·        No mechanism to accomplish this was identified.



The faculty consensus was that cost/benefit analyses of the support services provided by the department should be carried out:

·        Reports on the results should be shared with the faculty prior to implementation.


And most importantly . . .


The vast majority of the afternoon discussion surrounded the issue of improving the academic quality of our program.  See the faculty consensus on the next page.

Physics Faculty Retreat 2001                                                                Saturday, April 21, 2001 –       Page 3


The major area of faculty consensus during the afternoon discussion was that our highest priority should be improving the academic quality of our program.


            The faculty consensus included the following points: (*Action items)

·        Teaching:

                                                               i.      Providing a high quality educational experience to our majors is an absolute must.

                                                             ii.      Something must be done to improve the quality of teaching for all undergraduates (not just majors).

                                                            iii.      *Serious consideration should be given to increasing the size of Physics 121, and perhaps other courses to expose more of our students to our best teachers.

                                                           iv.      *Student evaluations of teaching ARE required for all courses. (Some discussion surrounded the idea of posting these evaluations, perhaps on the faculty’s intranet site, but no consensus was reached.)

                                                             v.      *Course Information, Instructor Notes and Guidelines will be included on the faculty intranet site.

                                                           vi.      *A pilot program will be launched to explore the usefulness and feasibility of having each faculty member provide hands-on help with student problem solving in place of, or in conjunction with the current recitation sessions.

                                                          vii.      Joe Reddish expressed a desire to re-institute project-based instruction, and Jordan observed advantages to having faculty follow the same group of students over several semesters as they progress through courses. (These ideas did not receive consensus, but the ideas should be explored and then re-introduced to the faculty for consideration.)


·        Advising:

                                                              i.      *All students must be seen by faculty advisors (This should be required for registration)

                                                             ii.      *Faculty member should sit in on meetings of their students with the staff advisor.

                                                            iii.      Faculty should sit down with each of their student advisees and thoroughly discuss their educational goals and options.

                                                           iv.      Approving student course selections should be a relatively small task at the end of a much more extensive process of consultation about plans, priorities and goals.


·        Conditions for Students

                                                               i.      We should work to improving the office/lounge space for students

                                                             ii.      Jordan suggested that computers are a necessity for our graduate students and asked that this become a priority. (No discussion followed, so consensus on this issue is not clear.)


Other item:  Physics Priorities Process in Regard to New Initiatives

Ted Jacobson asked for a discussion to clarify the department’s Priorities Process, with regard to new interdisciplinary initiative.  This was a major issue at last year’s faculty retreat, and Jordan pointed out that at that point the faculty consensus was that PI’s would provide prior consultation with the Priorities Committee before proposing new initiatives involving physics.

·        *The faculty consensus was that a faculty meeting should be called in the near future to discuss this issue with the Priorities Committee.