Faculty Senate covers range of topics during October meeting

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Educational equity and diversity, student government, and health plan options for the upcoming year were some of the topics the University Faculty Senate took up during its meeting Tuesday (Oct. 18).

Chairman James Strauss has noted that featuring students and student organizations and including diversity-related topics are among the strategic goals for Faculty Senate meetings this year. On Tuesday, that meant hearing about the College of Engineering’s Multi-Campus Research Experiences for Undergraduates, including presentations by three students who participated, in addition to reports from the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) and the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG).

Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for Educational Equity, reviewed the history of Penn State’s Office of Educational Equity, current initiatives and ideas for how faculty can advance diversity and inclusion. Established in 1990, the office focuses on college access, student success, leadership and institutional expertise on diversity and inclusion. The office works not only on behalf of Penn State, but also with targeted high schools in Pennsylvania and low-income youth and adults to overcome barriers to higher education.

Whitehurst noted the changing demographics in higher education, particularly among public high schools in Pennsylvania, and Penn State’s increasingly diverse student body. The University’s Strategic Plan includes a section on fostering and embracing diversity and, Whitehurst said, the University is looking to have diversity interwoven throughout the plan. 

Whitehurst encouraged members of the faculty to participate in the four strategic goals focused on fostering and embracing a diverse world; asking what you can do to create a welcoming campus climate and advance and build a diverse student body; when serving on a search committee, asking what you can do to advance and build a diverse workforce and management team; and when developing syllabi, what can you do to develop a curriculum that fosters cultural competencies.

Among the initiatives Whitehurst’s office is involved in is “All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.” Upcoming “All In” events include a panel discussion Oct.27 on “The First Amendment and Diversity and Inclusion.”

“We want to inspire all members of the University community to take an active role in promoting respect and inclusivity in the work that we do,” Whitehurst said.

Promoting diversity and inclusion is also a priority of the UPUA. UPUA President Terry Ford, along with CCSG President Pavel Shusharin, discussed their organizations’ efforts to better student life for undergraduates.

Ford said he ran with three priorities: ending the mental health funding crisis, a national problem; student civic engagement; and promoting diversity and inclusion. He said the creation of student fee boards — one for University Park and one for the Commonwealth Campuses — which is underway will help address the need for additional mental health services funding.

“Here at University Park, one of our top priorities using this new fee board is to allocate additional resources to CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) using student fee dollars,” Ford said.

Other initiatives include working closely with State College borough on ordinances that impact students and forming a Student Diversity Commission that is planning a Town Hall event and forming a committee in conjunction with the Office of Strategic Communications to give student input on multicultural student issues and events.

Also Tuesday, the Faculty Senate:

—    Received a report on the University’s 2016-17 operating budget from Vice Provost Nick Jones, who also reviewed Penn State’s 2017-18 state appropriation request.

—    Received a report on health plan options for 2017 from Greg Stoner, senior director of compensation and benefits. The benefits open enrollment period runs Nov. 1-18. Stoner noted that the website with information on the two plan options includes online tools for helping choose: openenrollment.psu.edu.

—    Approved a motion recommending the University form a task force to look into options for implementing a policy to make Penn State smoke-free and endorse the spirit of a proposal from the University Park Undergraduate Association for a smoke-free University. The recommendation is for the task force to have a range of stakeholders including members of the Faculty Senate, staff, the Office of Physical Plant, representatives from the campuses and students, and look at the challenges of implementation along with benchmarking with other universities. The recommendation, which came from the Faculty Benefits and Student Life committees, will be forwarded to the University administration.

—    Approved a motion that all syllabi will include information on available Counseling and Psychological Services, similar to the already required disability statement. The report from the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education noted that often students are unaware of the resources available to them.

—    Heard a report from current Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR) Linda Caldwell on athletic scholarships and academic eligibility of student athletes. Caldwell, Distinguished Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management and Human Development and Family Studies, will step down from the FAR position in summer 2017. The University is accepting nominations to fill the position.

Last Updated November 15, 2016