Senate defeats motions to endorse statements regarding NCAA sanctions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s University Faculty Senate on Tuesday (Oct. 16) considered and declined to endorse two initiatives related to the NCAA sanctions levied against the University, held a forensic session on the state of general education and received reports on budget and strategic planning and employee dependent eligibility verifications.

“This is a year for big picture thinking,” said Senate Chair Larry Backer, professor of international affairs and law, in his opening remarks. He noted that “the faculty remains a central and critical participant” in discussions about issues of governance and of the organization of the University, and reiterated that Senate members have “committed ourselves to this duty of governance in a deep and, we hope, open and cooperative way. By so doing we hope to help set the example of the appropriate model for shared governance -- open, engaged with other stakeholders, transparent and consultative.”

To that end, Backer said, he has recently charged a number of special committees to undertake studies on a variety of topics, including student conduct, student research, University governance, the implementation of the Freeh Group recommendations, the organization and operation of the Senate and the exercise of shared governance in the academic colleges and on campuses.

Backer's opening remarks, including the special committee charges, may be read at online.

In other business, Backer introduced Steve Dunham, who described his role as University counsel and the responsibilities of the Office of General Counsel. Dunham noted that searches were under way to add three attorneys in the areas of employment, research and healthcare.

-- Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Robert N. Pangborn gave a presentation on the University's 2012-13 operating budget and the progress made thus far in implementing “Priorities for Excellence: The Penn State Strategic Plan, 2009-10 through 2013-14.” Complete details of the strategic plan can be found at online. The provost also updated the senators on the Core Council process and implementation of a new Budget Planning Task Force.

-- The Senate conducted a forensic session on a report on general education presented by Jeremy Cohen, associate vice president and senior associate dean for Undergraduate Education. The report, according to Cohen, is designed to help the Senate consider the scope and direction for reforming general education at Penn State. Cohen stressed that the report was not a proposal for specific change, but an invitation to engage in discussion about the state of general education and examine its strengths and weaknesses.

The report is available at online.

-- The Senate considered two motions related to the investigations and the Sandusky scandal and the NCAA sanctions. In the first, Senator Keith Nelson, professor of psychology, asked senators to send a statement to the NCAA board of directors and NCAA sanctioning committee critical of the process and rationale used to impose the sanctions. The document is available at: online. (The specific portion Nelson proposed to send begins with “BEGIN document for NCAA” on page one and ends with END document for the NCAA.”) The motion was defeated, 140 to 34.

The second motion was made by Senator Patricia Koch, professor of biobehavioral health, and sought Senate endorsement of a statement, written and endorsed by a group of 30 former chairs of the Senate, critical of the NCAA sanctions and some of the conclusions of the Freeh Report. The statement is available at: online. The motion was defeated, 93 to 83.

-- An informational report from Robin Oswald, director of Employee Benefits, was given related to a initiative to verify dependents of University personnel who take part in the benefits program. The University will introduce the initiative during this year’s benefit open enrollment in November and the program is scheduled to begin January 2013.

Oswald reported that 10,300 faculty and staff have dependents receiving health, dental and/or vision benefits and 3,438 dependents receiving the tuition discount. She said, on average when dependent reviews are conducted about 5 percent to 7 percent are estimated to be ineligible, primarily due to misunderstandings about dependent coverage criteria. Removing ineligible dependents would produce an estimated $3.5 million to $5 million savings for health plans in the first year. This savings would help maintain lower employee contribution levels, Oswald said.

Details of the program will be rolled out in the coming weeks with the goal of removing ineligible dependents from health, dental, and vision coverage, and the tuition discount program. Employees should receive a letter from OHR and will be expected to provide proof of a dependent’s eligibility in order for them to continue coverage under the University's policies. Oswald noted that all employee information will be kept confidential and secure. There will be a process to appeal any decisions and there is no punitive action related to the verification.

-- Senator Thomas Beebee, professor of comparative literature and German, made a proposal for the Senate to consider sending a statement to the NCAA that affirms the Senate's commitment to positive change, which was seconded and set for vote at the Dec. 4 Senate meeting.

The full agenda for the Oct. 16 meeting is available at online. Meetings also are video archived via Mediasite, instructions for which are available at online.

The Faculty Senate will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 in 112 Kern Graduate Building, University Park.

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Last Updated October 19, 2012