Published June 19, 2014
Updates on efforts to strengthen UB’s undergraduate experience, the opening of the new Crossroads Culinary Center and continued discussion of issues surrounding UB’s Shale Resources and Society Institute were the focus of Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting.
“We’re working toward transforming the student experience at UB,” said President Satish Tripathi, describing tactics that include the expansion of UB’s Undergraduate Academies program.
“Ninety-eight percent of students in the Undergraduate Academies return as sophomores, compared to 88 percent for the campus overall,” he said.
A new academy in entrepreneurship began this year and Tripathi said that will be followed by a sustainability academy starting next fall. He also mentioned the recent appointment of 85 new faculty members and the opening of several new buildings on the North, South and Downtown campuses as signs of progress overall.
Ezra Zubrow, Faculty Senate chair and professor of anthropology, introduced the lengthiest discussion of the meeting, which centered on the shale institute.
“In this day of considerable intellectual ferment, one of the most important aspects of freedom of speech and freedom of research is the freedom to learn and the freedom to understand,” said Zubrow.
To clarify the facts and to provide a forum for discussion, Provost Charles F. Zukoski addressed the membership and guests about the institute and questions that have arisen since its creation.
“There has been significant misinformation expressed by various sources, which has led to many questions about the shale institute,” said Zukoski. “I want to clarify the facts and clarify any misunderstandings.”
Zukoski said it’s not uncommon for faculty to sometimes undertake research in areas that are the subject of significant public discussion.
“My role,” he said,” is to make sure our policies and practices protect academic freedom across disciplines and ensure that our research is excellent and conducted to the highest ethical standards, enabling our faculty to explore and publish research on any topic, including controversial ones like shale fracking, while sustaining an environment that is characterized by scholarly rigor, academic integrity and informed debate.”
He acknowledged the institute’s first report in May, which reviewed the impact of regulations on the incidences of environmental policy violation, contained what he described as wording errors. However, the authors—including the institute’s director, co-director and three faculty members from other universities—immediately corrected those errors and displayed the corrections on the report’s cover.
Zukoski’s report and general remarks about the institute generated little debate at the meeting, with only two guests asking questions from the floor.
“It does seem to me that some mistakes have been made,” said Jim Holstun, professor of English. “But these mistakes can become an opportunity for improving the university and improving our practices, so we can become a better university in the future.”
Zubrow noted that the senate is working with Alexander N. Cartwright, vice president for research and economic development, to form a committee to examine the issues of disclosure, confidentiality and public-private partnerships across the university.
Tripathi explained that the committee will be responsible for reporting on process improvements in the management of potential conflicts of interest, and not the results of the research itself.
During the meeting, Holstun asked Zubrow if he could present to Tripathi a petition with more than 600 signatures that asks UB to establish full transparency with regard to the funding, founding and governance of the shale institute. Zubrow told Holstun that he would have to follow normal protocol for a petition not generated by the senate and present it directly to the president after the meeting.
In the meeting’s final piece of business, Jeff Brady, executive director of Campus Dining & Shops, gave a preview of the Crossroads Culinary Center (C3), the new residential dining center opening on Oct. 25 in the Ellicott Complex.
“Students will experience dining like never before here on campus,” said Brady.
C3, which replaces the Red Jacket Dining Center, features eight nationally and internationally themed marché-style dining stations in which fresh food is prepared to order in full view of the customer.