Senators at the Oct. 8 Urbana Academic Senate meeting narrowly approved a new policy designed to better regulate electronic surveys and questionnaires sent through the universitywide network.
The measure, already revised twice and following substantial debate at the meeting, passed by a 41-37 vote.
Sen. Nicholas Burbules, a professor of education policy, organization and leadership, and chair of the General University Policy Committee, which proposed the change, said it creates a "more transparent process" and sets "reasonable boundaries" for anyone requesting use of the university's network to conduct campus surveys.
Burbules said the policy does not cover smaller surveys conducted at the unit or college levels and would prevent the growing problem of "survey fatigue."
Critics of the proposal said it was too broad and overreaching and had the potential to affect research-related surveys.
"I'm troubled by this," said Sen. Nancy O'Brien, a professor and the head of the Social Services, Health and Education Library.
She echoed the comments of other senators questioning the proposal, saying it "adds to the regulatory burden we're feeling already" and could have "a chilling effect on research."
"The arguments against this are pretty significant," said Sen. Sally Jackson, a communication professor, agreeing the new system represented "too many hoops" that could affect legitimate research surveys.
Burbules said he was "perplexed" by the negative reaction of some senators because the policy would actually protect the issuance of valid surveys by creating a proposal-review committee that includes faculty.
"I believe that some people have not read the proposal - or not read it very carefully," he said.
The current approval process, Burbules said, is conducted by the Division of Management Information - with very few guidelines of what surveys are acceptable to send on the university network and which are not.
He said the concern initially was raised by the recently retired Carol Livingstone, who was in charge of the survey reviews.
"Somebody has been doing that screening for you," he said. "There's (already) a judgment being made for you. Would you rather have it made by an individual or a representative committee?"
Sen. Roy Campbell, a computer science professor and the chair of the Senate Information Technology Committee, defended the proposed policy.
He said the committee-review structure would include faculty members and be used to develop better criteria than the current system uses.
"It puts a lot of pressure (to review surveys) on that administrator," he said of the current process.
The policy proposal did undergo a final revision before approval after senators voted to drop an amendment limiting the number of follow-up surveys.
In other business, senators:
- Approved a measure changing the senate constitution and bylaws, submitted by the University Statutes and Senate Procedures committee chair William Maher, the university archivist.
The changes would allow senators to add agenda items with a simple majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote, and it would reduce the size of a meeting quorum from 100 members to 75.
- Heard a report from Stacey Kostell, the director of undergraduate admissions, on her office's efforts to improve and enhance enrollment-management programs on campus.
She said the office plans to improve communication of its activities by increasing the number of campus presentations and better involving faculty members in the process, placing a greater emphasis on diversity and adopting new recruitment strategies.
Kostell said discussion is ongoing concerning a change in the online freshman application process, which for years has been conducted on the Banner system. She said the new process would bypass Banner.
She said the office also is searching for better ways to identify students qualifying for merit aid in an effort to more strategically disburse limited aid funds. She said the office is working to construct a scholarship website to make the process easier for students.