Barron talks state appropriation, DACA at year’s first Faculty Senate meeting

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State President Eric Barron covered a variety of topics, ranging from the status of the University’s state appropriation to Greek life, Richard Spencer and DACA, during the University Faculty Senate’s opening meeting of the 2017-18 academic year, held Sept. 12 in 112 Kern Building.

Barron provided the Faculty Senate with an update on the University’s appropriation from the Commonwealth, which has been delayed due to the protracted budget stalemate in Harrisburg that has seen the Legislature pass a budget without a revenue package to pay for it. The nonpreferred budget bills that provide funding for Penn State and its fellow state-related universities have been on hold since June as lawmakers work toward a revenue agreement.

“We have a budget and an expectation (of state funding), but not the revenue package that allows us to go forward, although we’re assuming those dollars will be there,” Barron said.

Barron said the University is proceeding cautiously absent state funding, although he remains optimistic that a vote on a revenue plan — and Penn State’s appropriation — could come soon.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed that a vote will come this week,” he said. “We have a whole series of steps to ramp-up our message if it continues to drag out and we have trouble getting our appropriation. We would be a very different university without that appropriation.”

Barron also spoke about the measures that have been put in place to reform Greek life at Penn State, and indicated that he hopes to have most of the changes implemented by November.

“Our objective is to make sure that Greek life can be successful, and therefore to enhance all of the good things about it, and do our best to mitigate all of the negative things,” Barron said. “There are very few universities not concerned about this problem.”

In his remarks Barron addressed two issues making headlines nationally: the federal government’s ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the efforts of Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, to speak on college campuses around the country.

“In both cases, I would say the attitude of the University is really rather simple,” said Barron. “We accept qualified students, and we don’t think about the qualified students based on where they’re from or what their history is. We see ourselves as an educator, and if you’re qualified, you’re hard working, and you’ve put in that effort, welcome to Penn State. We’re going to help you succeed. We don’t think about it any other way.”

Barron elaborated on the University’s rationale behind not welcoming Spencer to speak at University Park this fall, saying that the threat of violence to students, faculty and staff was too great a risk.

“I have to tell you that my view was that this institution must have Richard Spencer come speak, and I felt that way until I watched what was happening at different universities,” Barron said. “The first question that I asked was ‘What will it take to protect students?’ because I believe free speech is fundamental to the functioning of a university, even when I think it is offensive.”

Barron went on to say that the safety of the community after a review by University police drove the recent decision.

Also addressing the senate was Kathleen Bieschke, vice provost for faculty affairs, who spoke in place of Provost and Executive Vice President Nick Jones. Bieschke discussed her vision for the newly renamed Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, focusing in particular on faculty development and providing opportunities for faculty success.

“My goal is to think more strategically about what our faculty need to thrive in an ever-changing world of higher education,” she said.

In other Faculty Senate news:

-- Matthew Woessner, Faculty Senate chair, announced that two special committees would convene this year: the Special Committee on Tenure and Equity and the Senate Centennial Committee.

-- The senate paid tribute to former faculty senator Brian Curran, who passed away July 11, 2017. Curran was a professor of art history who joined the Penn State faculty in 1997.

-- In unfinished business from its April 25 meeting, the senate passed a revision to its bylaws establishing that the Faculty Senate chair will determine appropriate assignments for Faculty Senate representatives serving on Penn State Board of Trustees committees. Previously, there was no procedure for assigning the Faculty Senate seat on six standing committees of the board. 

-- Ann Taylor, senate secretary and director of the Dutton e-Education Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, presented an informational report on behalf of the Senate Council on its spring 2017 college visits. Senate officers visited six academic units during the spring 2017 semester: the College of Arts and Architecture, University Libraries, Schreyer Honors College, College of Information Sciences and Technology, College of Agricultural Sciences, and Smeal College of Business.

-- Michael Bérubé, senate chair-elect and professor of English, presented the 2016-17 annual report on faculty tenure rates on behalf of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs. 

-- Dawn Blasko, executive director of the University Faculty Senate and associate professor of psychology at Penn State Behrend, presented the 2016-17 annual report of the Senate Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities.

-- Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration and Penn State’s new faculty athletics representative, presented the Senate Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics’ Annual Report of Academic Eligibility and Athletic Scholarships for 2016-17.

The University Faculty Senate’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in 112 Kern Building at University Park. The full agenda for the Sept. 12 meeting is available on the Faculty Senate website. Meetings also are livestreamed and archived via Mediasite.

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Last Updated September 13, 2017