Faculty Senate meets for final meeting of 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In its final meeting for 2012, Penn State’s Faculty Senate on Tuesday (Dec. 4) held a forensic session on faculty appointment ratios, considered a motion to issue a statement supporting University leaders, heard a report on initiatives to address student alcohol issues, approved revisions to standing rules pertaining to faculty athletics representatives and received several informational reports.

In his opening remarks, Senate Chair Larry Backer, professor of international affairs and law, emphasized the need for the Senate to be proactively engaged in such key areas as curriculum, University values and objectives, and faculty productivity.

Backer said he sees “a renewed and very positive relationship between the Senate leadership and the University’s president, provost and Board of Trustees. Rod Erickson, Rob Pangborn and Karen Peetz have done a tremendous amount since the start of their tenures to support the role of the Senate as an active and respected member of the University’s governance community."

Backer's opening remarks may be read at http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2012/12/statement-of-senate-chair-made-at.html#more online.

A forensics session, led by Timothy Lawlor, associate professor of physics and astrophysics, and Nicholas Rowland, professor of sociology focused on the increasing trend in the ratio of fixed-term faculty to standing faculty, and whether thresholds or balances should be established in regard to ratios of fixed-term faculty to standing faculty.

Senators raised a number of questions about the nature of the condition of contract faculty experiences at Penn State: these included the perceived problems of unofficial policies at the unit level to reduce FT-M to FT 1 status, the teaching and research loads of fixed-term or contract faculty, the relationship of contract to continuing term faculty, assessment of contract faculty, and the difficulty of obtaining useful data. Some were concerned that the report might be limited or not contain enough data or detail for a complete discussion of the subject. At the end of the session Chair Backer noted that the discussion should and will continue, inviting faculty to send in questions, ideas and opinions that would help continue the conversation at a future point and guide the committee’s ongoing efforts.

The Senate also approved unanimously a request by Senator Thomas Beebee, professor of comparative literature and German, to withdraw a motion he presented at the Oct. 16 meeting, which had proposed that the Senate consider endorsing a statement affirming the Senate's commitment to positive change.

Senators voted on and approved several revisions to the Standing Rules for Faculty Athletics Representatives and the Senate Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as approved the establishment of a new Extra-Senatorial Committee on Campus Athletics.

Cynthia Robinson, director of the George T. Harrell Health Sciences Library at Penn State College of Medicine and chair of the Senate Committee on Committees and Rules, and Jeffrey Laman, professor of civil engineering and immediate past chair, made the report. With expansion of Athletics across Penn State, said Robinson, the revisions essentially “modify language in the standing rules to allow reconfiguration of the committee, and add an extra-senatorial committee that represents the various campuses.”

The policy changes are available as Appendixes D, E and F at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2012-2013/dec2012/dec2012agn.html online.

Linda Clark, assistant professor of statistics, presented an informational report on the Faculty Partner Program, a joint venture between the Senate’s Intercollegiate Athletics Committee and Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. The program aims to provide a partnership between the University’s academic and athletics units through increased contact and collaboration between faculty senators, athletic coaches and student-athletes.

Clark said that the program could be a model for additional programs at the University to connect faculty with various non-athletic student populations in order to strengthen mutual understanding. Chair Backer invited faculty proposals for consideration of the expansion of this sort of partnership program for development.

The presentation is available at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2012-2013/dec2012/appj.pdf online.

Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims reported on the effect of wide-ranging initiatives to address student alcohol issues at Penn State, providing baseline metrics from many of the initiatives to address these issues. He noted that initiatives fall into four categories -- education, environment, enforcement, and intervention -- and the metrics include data collected from a host of sources, such as the Mount Nittany Medical Center Emergency Department, the Office of Student Conduct, Penn State SAFE (Student Alcohol Feedback and Education) and the new Collegiate Recovery Community. Questions from Senators included how alcohol abuse factors into the issue of sexual assault distinctions on campuses.

“We are committed to persisting and measuring our progress, sharing the results of those measurements widely, increasing our partnership with students and making adjustments as necessary,” said Sims. “It’s my belief that Penn State is headed in the right direction with this issue, and I hope you agree, and I believe that our students are headed there with us.”

The Committee on Student Life plans to present the metrics on an annual basis. The full report is available at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2012-2013/dec2012/appl.pdf online.

Several other informational reports to the Senate included the following: curricular consultation suggestions and guidelines; unit development of faculty workload policies; student transition issues from the Commonwealth campuses to University Park; and enrollment and instructor patterns in general education courses. Annual informational reports also were presented on Faculty Senate scholarships awarded to undergraduates and a summary of student petitions by college, campus and unit for 2011-12.

Chair Backer closed the session by noting that all Penn State faculty, students, alumni or other members of the University community should feel free to contact him with questions or reactions to the reports.

The full agenda for the meeting is available at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2012-2013/dec2012/dec2012agn.html online. Meetings also are video archived via Mediasite, instructions for which are available at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/mediasite_guests.html online.

The Faculty Senate will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in 112 Kern Graduate Building, University Park.

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Last Updated December 08, 2012