A draft handbook for the Computer Science SEPC
Welcome to your position on Grinnell’s Student Educational Policy Committee, or SEPC. As an elected representative of Grinnell’s CS students, you have a variety of general responsibilities:
- You gather and represent the perspectives of students in faculty personnel issues, including, but not limited to, hiring, regular reviews, and reviews for promotion.
- You act as a liaison between students and faculty in the department.
- You coordinate a variety of social functions for the department.
- You represent the department in a variety of activities typically coordinated by the SGA VPAA, including the Student Curriculum Committee and the SGA Majors fair.
This handbook should help support you in your duties.
Faculty handbook statement: Chair’s Relationship with the SEPC
The description of the Department Chair’s primary responsibilities with regard to the SEPC appear in the Grinnell College Faculty Handbook, Part One: The Academic Organization of the College, Section III. The Departments, Subsection B. Chair, Subsubsection 4. Duties: Student Involvement in Departmental Matters.
The Chair of the Department shall
- clarify for the departmental Student Educational Policy Committee its role in relation to the functioning of the department.
- meet regularly with the departmental Student Educational Policy Committee to obtain its impressions of the department’s programs and the performance of the department’s faculty members. Such impressions should be reported, when appropriate, to the faculty member concerned and to the Dean of the College.
Expectations and Requirements
The members of the SEPC should to behave appropriately, with an understanding of the responsibilities that their peers, the Department, and the College have placed upon them.
College requirements for SEPCs
All members of the SEPC must take implicit bias training to ensure that they understand the possible effects of implicit bias on their and their colleague’s judgment in their reviews of candidates and faculty. The Dean’s office or the Chief Diversity Officer coordinates such training.
Because members of the SEPC serve in positions of responsibility; other students may therefore consider them appropriate resources for reporting issues of sexual discrimination or assault. Hence, all members of the SEPC are required to participate in Title IX training. The College’s Title IX Coordinator arranges Such training.
SGA Expectations for SEPCs
Each SEPC must appoint a member to attend the regular meetings of the Student Curriculum Committee (SCC). That member is expected to attend each of the monthly SCC meetings. If that member is unable to attend, another member of the SEPC should attend in their place.
Each SEPC must represent the department at the annual
majors fair for second-year students.
Additional CS Department Expectations for SEPCs
In addition to meeting the general expectations of SEPCs, detailed above and below, the Computer Science SEPC meets regularly with the department chair and ensures that dishes are not left in the sink in the CS commons. For the latter duty, the SEPC may choose to divide dishwashing duties among themselves or appoint one or more other students to take on those duties.
The CS SEPC should also collaborate appropriately with the other student groups associated with the department, such as the ACM Student Chapter, Women in Computing, and the Code Community.
Responsibilities in Assessing Faculty
One of the SEPC’s most important roles is serving as a voice of majors in various ways in which faculty are assessed, both formally and informally. Since you are dealing with personnel issues, you should remember that you have a responsibility to keep the details of your report confidential.
Grinnell’s tenure-line faculty are normally reviewed by the Department and the College in their second year (interim review), their third year (complete review), and their sixth year (complete review, with consideration for promotion and tenure). At some point after receiving promotion to the rank of associate professor, Grinnell faculty may be reviewed for promotion to full professor. Each of these reviews requires a Student Review Committee. The SEPC normally serves that role. Tenured faculty also undergo salary reviews every three years. The SEPC does not participate in these reviews.
Guidelines for reviews appear in the Grinnell College Faculty Handbook. The Dean’s office provides additional guidelines. The Student Review Committee usually meets with the Department Chair early in the review process to discuss the process and particular details about their role. The Student Review Committee interviews majors (preferably face to face) and summarizes the results of those interviews in written form. The CS department encourages the SEPC to interview as many students as possible for each review and requires a minimum of fifteen such interviews. A typical set of interview questions and a typical report appear at the end of the handbook.
Policies Regarding SEPC Role in Faculty Reviews
Taken from the Grinnell College Faculty Handbook, Part Three: Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure; Section III. Policies and Procedures for Appointments, Promotions, and Granting of Tenure Consequent to the By-Laws of the Trustees of Grinnell College; Subsection E. Consideration of Renewal of Regular Faculty Contracts; Subsubsection 1. The Complete Evaluation;
Subsubsubsection a. Sources of Information; Subssubsubsubsection (4) Students.
Students. (Student-led evaluation). A student review team shall submit to the review chair a written evaluation of the instructor being considered for reappointment or promotion, as instructed by the review chair. The team’s evaluation should not only report on their interviews with appropriate students, but also render a thoughtful judgment of the instructor’s contribution as a teacher in their subject at Grinnell College.
For faculty whose teaching is primarily within one or more departments, the Student Educational Policy Committees (SEPCs) of those departments will normally serve as the student review team, and they shall be responsible for interviewing primarily majors. For other cases, see G.2 (Student Reviews) below.
The SEPC plays a particularly important role in faculty searches. SEPC members should plan to meet with every candidate, typically for a lunch that also includes other interested students. SEPC members should plan to attend the Candidates’ talks and, when possible, their sample classes. SEPC members may also serve as a conduit for comments from other students.
The SEPC should provide a report on their impressions of each candidate within a day of their last contact with the candidate.
Informal Assessment of Courses
In Computer Science, the SEPC meets with the Department Chair weekly or bi-weekly. At those sessions, the SEPC will report to the department chair any comments they have received about the courses in the department.
The SEPC takes responsibility for supporting the social life of the department. CS prides itself on being a welcoming department for all students and expects the SEPC to support that endeavor. While the SEPC plays many formal and informal roles, the following are among the most common.
Weekly Study Breaks
The SEPC runs a weekly study break. Historically, student breaks have been on Tuesday evenings. The SEPC typically purchases fruit, drinks, and other refreshments. Some SEPCs have been particularly ambitious and have baked for study breaks. The latter practice is appreciated but is certainly not required.
The CS SEPC helps faculty coordinate and run the Fall and Spring joint CS/Math/Stats picnics. SEPC responsibilities often include helping with picnic setup and cleanup. The fall picnic typically occurs ????. The spring picnic typically occurs ????.
The CS SEPC produces an annual departmental T-Shirt. (This t-shirt is separate from the t-shirt the department provides to its majors.) The typical schedule for producing t-shirts in the spring is as follows.
Start of Week 8 (spring break): Solicit design suggestions from students and faculty.
Start of Week 9 (immediately after spring break): Re-solicit design suggestions from students and faculty.
End of Week 9: Close submissions; open voting for designs. Note that students who vote for a design should be committing to buy shirts with that design if it is chosen.
End of Week 10: Close voting.
Start of Week 11: Announce winning shirt. Start taking orders and collecting money. We tend to ask $10/shirt. Students must pay for shirts in advance as it is much too difficult to collect money after we’ve purchased the shirts.
Start of Week 12: Order shirts based on orders. We traditionally use one of the local vendors, such as Awards Unlimited.
The CS SEPC tries to run at least one pub quiz per semester.
We have discussed board game nights, Deck Wars (people present with Powerpoints they have not seen previously), Core Wars, and other activities.
The SEPC receives funding from a variety of sources. Student Affairs provides each SEPC with a budget in the fall. Recently, that budget has been $5 per major. The SGA VPAA conveys that information to the SEPC. When you receive the information, please verify the number of majors and also forward the information to the department chair. SEPC members normally purchase food using their own money and then ask for reimbursement in student affairs. The members of the SEPC should do their best to keep track of their budget.
Because we have weekly study breaks and we have large introductory classes, the funds available from student affairs generally run out early in the spring semester. The SEPC can stretch its budget by taking advantage of other funding available for student groups. All-campus events can get funding through ACE; for more CS-specific things, they can apply to the Student Programming Committee. Information on funding is available at http://sga.grinnell.edu/money/.
If Student Affairs and SGA Funds are not available, the Department Chair may often provide additional funds from the Department’s Restricted Fund.
Election Procedures and Policies
SEPC elections are normally held in the spring, immediately after spring break.
The SEPC may choose its own voting policy and protocol. Typically, the SEPC solicits statements from candidates, distributes those statements to students in the department, holds an election using either Helios Voting or [whatever SGA uses], and chooses the candidates with the highest number of votes.
Our practice has been to allow all students with an interest in CS to run for the SEPC.
Our practice has been to allow all students on the csstudents mailing list to vote in SEPC elections.
Approximate Yearly Calendar
Sample Instructions from the Chair
Dear CS SEPC,
Attached are some materials to help you with your review of Professor Person. Three documents are attached. (All in MS Word format; please let me know if you’d prefer another format.)
modelreview (more of a template, in my perspective) to give you a sense of what the document should look like. I stole this from History and adapted it. (
asked the department for a copy and indicated that I would adapt it)
The list of questions the College asks students who have taken courses from Professor Person. (You don’t get the responses, but I thought it would be useful for you to see what kinds of questions the College asks.)
Additional information about the SEPC’s role, copied from various documents.
As I’ve said in the past, your role is to provide the perspective of current majors and prospective majors on Professor Person’s role as teacher, adviser, and member of the department. Since Professor Person has done some student-faculty research, it is also worth examining that.
Your first job is to pick a set of
attributes to address. I would suggest the following:
- Teaching - Assignments
- Teaching - Feedback
- Teaching - Classroom Time
- Teaching - Course Structure
- Advising - Knowledge
- Advising - Helpfulness
- Student-Faculty Research
- Additional Contributions to the Department
However, you may certainly pick another set. (You could also allow the attributes to emerge from the answers you get.)
Your second job is to develop a set of questions to ask students. I will admit that I like fairly minimalist sets of questions, something like:
- What classes have you taken from Professor Person?
- What non-class interactions have you had with Professor Person?
- (If the student has taken classes) What are their strengths as a teacher?
- (If the student has taken classes) What are their weaknesses as a teacher?
- (If an advisee) What are their strengths as an adviser?
- (If an advisee) What are their weaknesses as an adviser?
- (If a research student) What are their strengths as a research supervisor?
- (If a research student) What are their weaknesses as a research supervisor?
- What other contributions do you see Professor Person making to computer science at Grinnell?
You might also break the teaching questions up into parts. For example,
- (If the student has taken classes) What are positive aspects of their assignments?
- (If the student has taken classes) What are weaknesses in their assignments?
You could also be even more general
- (If the student has taken classes) Tell me about their assignments.
Your third job is to contact students and arrange times to interview them. Try to get as many majors and prospective majors as you can. (I do understand that these interviews take time. However, having a higher proportion of our majors (and prospective majors) makes the report more accurate and more convincing.)
Your fourth job is to interview the students. I would suggest that each of you plan to interview about 1/4 of the students who respond. I would suggest that you try to get the interviews done before break. You should take notes on each interview.
Your final job is to write a report. Please make sure that the report reflects well upon you: Use correct grammar; spell correctly; make sure your claims don’t contradict each other.
I would like your report by …. That should give you more than enough time to contact students, interview students, and write your report.
Please let me know if you have concerns or questions. We can also discuss this further at our regular meeting.
Sample Faculty Review Letter
Computer Science SEPC Faculty Review: Professor Person
In order to better assess Professor Person as a Computer Science professor here at Grinnell College, we, the members of the Computer Science Student Education Policy Committee, conducted our portion of Professor Person’s review for tenure and promotion to the rank of associate professor. The subsequent report summarizes feedback we have received from current and prospective CS majors about Professor Person’s work with students – in classes, as an adviser, in student-faculty research projects, and otherwise in the department. Our recommendation follows the findings from our review.
After obtaining a list of the NN current Computer Science majors and the MM prospective Computer Science majors currently enrolled in CSC 211, we contacted YY students via e-mail, explaining that we would like to receive feedback about their experience with Professor Person as teacher, member of the department, or adviser. In total, we received ZZ responses and conducted ZZZ in-person individual interviews. During each interview, we asked each student the following questions.
Fill in your own questions
Students had the following experiences with Professor Person.
- NN took a section of CSC 151, Functional Problem Solving
- NN took or are currently enrolled in a section of CSC 211, Computer Architecture
- NN have Professor Person as an adviser
- NN have done summer research with Professor XXX
There were several students who took more than one course with Professor XX. They were asked about each of their classes within the interview and thus have been counted more than once in the class breakdown.
Aspects of Professor Person’s Work
In talking to students, we considered issues related to teaching (assignments, feedback, in-class time, class structure), advising (knowledge, helpfulness), student-faculty research, and general contributions to the department. You may change this list if you consider it appropriate to do so.
Sample introductory sentences follow. You could use them to start each section.
There was a mixed reaction to/enthusiastic praise for …
Students in virtually all classes agreed that …
The reaction to Professor Person’s … was …
Most interviewees agreed that …
Advising – Knowledge
Advising – Helpfulness
Additional Contributions to the Department
On the whole …
Adam Computer ‘18
Becca Scientist ‘19
Acknowledgment: This document draws upon a model review provided to the CS SEPC. The model review is itself based on a similar model that the History Department provides to its SEPC. The CS department template is available upon request from the Department Chair.
Questions Asked in Dean’s Survey
The Dean sends a survey to a randomly selected group of students, including both majors and nonmajors. You do not have access to the survey results. However, you may find the questions useful either in that you decide to adapt them for your own purposes or in that you decide to avoid them.
Note that this survey includes simple categorical questions (a little … a lot). We would prefer that you avoid such questions.
The Registrar’s records show that you took the following courses (list follows) with Professor Person. Is this list correct? If not, please correct any errors.
Did you have any other contact outside the classroom with Professor Person? (No; Yes – Please explain.)
How well do you remember Professor Person? (Very well; Reasonably well; Not very well)
Compared to your other professors at Grinnell, is there any way that Professor Person stands out in your mind? (No; Yes – Please explain)
How much did you learn from your courses or other contact with Professor Person? Please explain your answers. (An extremely small amount; A small amount; A large amount; An extremely large amount)
Apart from details of the subject matter, is there anything you learned from Professor Person that has continued to be important to you? (No; Yes – please explain)
What did you consider to be the MOST effective aspects of Professor Person’s teaching?
What did you consider to be the LEAST effective aspects of Professor Person’s teaching?
In retrospect, is your current evaluation of Professor Person’s teaching at all different from your judgement at the time? (No; Yes-Please explain)
What criteria do you use for judging whether a faculty member at Grinnell has been effective?
Using these criteria, which choice most closely reflects your rating of Professor Person as a faculty member at Grinnell? Please explain your answer. (Extremely ineffective; Ineffective; Effective; Extremely effective)
Other Sample Questions
What classes have you taken from Prof. Person?
- What are their strengths as a teacher?
- What are their weaknesses as a teacher?
- What were their assignments like?
- Did she provide helpful feedback during the course of the semester?
- What did you think of the organization of the course?
- What did you think of the class sessions?
- Did you get help from them outside class sessions – what was that like?
What non-class interactions have you had with Prof. Person?
- What were the memorable aspects of these interactions?
- What was positive, what was negative?
Is Prof. Person your adviser?
- What are their strengths as an adviser?
- What are their weaknesses as an adviser?
- What do you think of their knowledge of resources for you?
- Speak generally about their helpfulness as an adviser.
Have you done any research with Prof. Person?
- What are their strengths as a research supervisor?
- What are their weaknesses as a research supervisor?
What other contributions do you see Prof. Person making to computer science at Grinnell?
This draft handbook draws upon a variety of sources, including
- The Student Educational Policy Committee Resource Book 1999-2000, provided by John Aerni Flessner.
- Samuel A. Rebelsky’s
- A variety of documents provided by the chair of the history department.
- A variety of historical documents from the CS SEPC.
Version 1.0 of 2017-03-11.