Senate rejects two motions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s University Faculty Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 24, voted against two motions related to the University’s Board of Trustees.

Senators voted against a motion to form a special committee with a majority of members who are independent of the University that would have investigated the Board of Trustees’ oversight role. A substitute motion that would have requested the Board of Trustees’ Special Investigations Task Force be expanded to include a co-chair with no connection to the University and additional members also failed.

In response to a request from Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology, who spoke against the motions, Senate Chair Daniel Hagen agreed to discuss with Senate officers the formation of a committee that would have among its charges evaluation of University governance, benchmarking with peer institutions and determination of best practices.

The Senate also voted against a motion, first introduced during a forensic session at the Senate’s December meeting and revised Tuesday, to send “a vote of ‘no confidence’ in [the board’s] ability as presently constituted, to perform its statutory duties.” The motion failed with 128 voting against and 58 in favor.

“One of the consequences of the tragic events of the past three months is the motivation to reflect on the past and plan for a better future," said Jean Landa-Pytel, assistant dean for student services in the College of Engineering, in speaking against the motion. "Members of the Board of Trustees have already begun that process and we need to do it as well… The members of the board are already well aware of how we feel and have begun the process of change. We need to work with the Board of Trustees and avoid an adversarial relationship. We should seek to be a part of the solution.”

Board chair Karen Peetz and vice chair Keith Masser plan to address and take questions from the Faculty Senate at the Senate’s March meeting.

“We look forward to meeting with the Faculty Senate in the near future and to begin a new dialogue,” Peetz said. “We are eager to listen, receptive to new ideas and welcome more openness and communication among the president, the board, the Faculty Senate and the faculty in general.”

A representative of a group of alumni advocating reorganization of the board was granted time to comment and urged the Senate to adopt both motions.

In his opening remarks, Hagen honored Joe Paterno, who died Sunday at age 85, by remembering Paterno's visits with the Senate and focusing on Paterno's commitment to education and philanthropy.

President Rodney Erickson also opened his remarks by paying tribute to Paterno for "making our University a better place." He added, "Joe will always be remembered for 'The Grand Experiment,' the idea that high quality academics can go hand-in-hand with the highest caliber, championship athletics."

Erickson updated the Senate on his Five Promises. He noted that the University is moving forward with its partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, as well as the creation of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children. He also has commissioned a faculty group to develop a proposal for University-wide institute for the study and treatment of child abuse, emphasizing that he wishes to see Penn State become a national leader in the study and prevention of child abuse.

Erickson said the University has begun to act on initial recommendations from Louis Freeh's independent investigation. Those recommendations were outlined at the Board of Trustees meeting last week. Erickson added that Freeh has assured him on multiple occasions the final report "will be fully public, with all of its findings and recommendations.”

Highlighting positive news across the University, Erickson said interest in open faculty positions "remains as high as ever." Additionally, student applications, alumni giving, research expenditures and employer participation in the upcoming Career Fair have all increased over last year.

In other business, senators approved a legislative report creating a new policy on minimum entrance requirements for admission to associate degree programs. The measure formalizes existing requirements that previously had been listed as an appendix in Policies and Rules for Students. For the full report: http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/jan2012/appb.pdf.

Senators also approved an advisory and consultative report establishing standards for consultation by faculty on matters such as academic and curriculum proposals and administrative structural change proposals. For details on the consultation standards: http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/jan2012/appc.pdf .

Denice Wardrop, co-chair of the University's Sustainability Strategic Plan Council Working Group, and Steve Maruszewski, assistant vice president for the Office of Physical Plant, provided a presentation on the Sustainability Strategic Plan.

Wardrop noted that Penn State is seeking to comprehensively integrate sustainability -- defined as "the simultaneous pursuit of human health and happiness, environmental quality, and economic well being for current and future generations " -- and make it a fundamental value throughout the University.

She explained the Penn State will become a "living laboratory," integrating the University's spaces into the learning experience with actionable and accountable goals. See the full report at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/jan2012/apph.pdf.

The Senate also received a report on challenges and opportunities for faculty and information technology professionals in the area of accessibility. For the report, go to http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/jan2012/appe.pdf.

Senators also received informational reports on: trends and patterns in use of full and part-time fixed-term faculty; student petitions to exceptions from academic rules; grade distribution; the Reserved Spaces Program; and the faculty census for 2012-13. All reports can be found at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/jan2012/jan2012agn.html.

The University Faculty Senate will hold its next meeting at 1:30 p.m. on March 13 in 112 Kern Graduate Building at University Park.

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Last Updated January 26, 2012