Faculty, staff ask questions on a range of topics during University Town Hall

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Provost Nick Jones and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray fielded questions from faculty and staff on topics ranging from voluntary early retirement to inclusion and diversity during a Town Hall meeting Wednesday, Sept. 28. The meeting is part of the University leadership’s ongoing focus on open communications and will be available online in the coming days.

“I would characterize our decision-making model as very collaborative and, hopefully one that’s transparent,” Gray said. “Part of the reason we have Town Halls is to help make us transparent and provide insight into how we go about the decision-making process.”

Health benefits and the costs and challenges that accompany them, the transformation of the University’s Human Resources system and a project to roll out a new payroll system were other topics Gray touched on during the meeting, held in the Pavilion Theatre on the University Park campus. The meeting also was livestreamed, allowing faculty and staff across the University to participate. Employees could submit questions through email, social media or on a card in person, all anonymously.

Employees who attended Wednesday’s meeting are asked to complete a survey at: tinyurl.com/psutownhallseptember2016.

The switch to the new student information system LionPATH, how federal changes in overtime rules will impact the University, what can be done to prevent sexual abuse, and making sure students who move from Commonwealth Campuses to University Park feel at home were among the list of topics Gray and Jones covered.

Jones said the transition to the LionPATH student information system implementation was, for many faculty, staff and students, stressful.

“By and large that transition went extraordinarily well. That is not to say, for a moment, that it was without a challenge. There were many, many challenges,” Jones said. “But, with the combined commitment of the LionPATH implementation team, and faculty, staff and students across the institution, we’ve been able to push through a lot of those.”

The University is working on an improved interface for LionPATH, the provost said, indicating he is aware of the issues that still exist with the new system.

Jones said that general salary increases for the current fiscal year, which are currently being processed, will be retroactive to July 1. They could not be implemented until after the state appropriations were approved and the University Board of Trustees approved Penn State’s budget.

On the topic of health care, Gray said that there will be no increase in the premiums for the PPO Blue plan in 2017. There will be some increases in premiums for the PPO Savings plan in an attempt to stay true to the University’s model of covering 75 percent of health care costs, with employees covering 25 percent.

“It’s incumbent on both the administration and individual consumers of health plans … to help curb costs so we can maintain a very high quality, affordable health care program,” Gray said.

The University, which has self-funded health care, saw an increase of 14.7 percent in medical expenses last fiscal year, according to Gray, after a few years of more moderate increases. That will be reviewed to gain understanding about the increase and whether it’s a trend.

Gray later noted that the University has a long-standing commitment to providing high-quality health programs with an element of choice for employees.

Responding to a question about what the University is doing to increase inclusion among faculty and staff, Jones said a commitment to diversity is one of the foundational elements in the University’s Strategic Plan.

“It’s about ensuring that our environments are inclusive, that we welcome people and perspectives from diverse viewpoints, and we must remain committed to that,” Jones said, adding that attracting a diverse pool of candidates during hiring searches for faculty is critical. It not only confirms Penn State’s commitment to inclusivity, it also helps to bring the best faculty to the University and provides the best learning environment for students.

The University has created two new positions in Human Resources focused on diversity recruitment of faculty and staff, Gray said. The University also is getting ready to kick off “All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion,” starting with an event Oct. 6 on the Old Main lawn.

In closing remarks, Gray asked all Penn Staters to remember the Penn State Values, particularly “Respect.”

“If as a community of faculty, staff and students, we have respect for one another, we will by definition be an inclusive environment. We will be colleagues who communicate openly and robustly, respectfully, politely, with civility with one another, and we will begin to see a lowering of tensions.”

The next Town Hall meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26 in the HUB-Robeson Center. Employees who attended Wednesday’s meeting are asked to complete a survey at: tinyurl.com/psutownhallseptember2016.

Last Updated October 05, 2016