Faculty Senate covers range of topics during October meeting

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the University Faculty Senate meeting Oct. 17, Penn State President Eric Barron discussed with senators the ongoing state budget stalemate and its effect on Penn State and state-related universities in Pennsylvania. University leadership recently asked the Penn State community to write to their legislators urging the release of the University’s state funds.

“So what is Penn State doing?” said Barron. “We had a strategy, basically, of wanting to work hard to get this done; to notify people that we had an issue; to activate our grassroots network — and we know thousands of letters went to the Legislature encouraging its members — to joint statements by the University of Pittsburgh chancellor and myself; to a deeper discussion about what the implications are of not having the state funding. Because, really, there are only two things: You can cut out programs and people, or you can raise tuition. Right now the funding from the state subsidizes in-state tuition and we add to it a considerable subsidy of our own. So this is a conversation that has been going on, back and forth; it has now become a more public conversation.”

Barron also noted that if the appropriation was withdrawn, Penn State would be the first land-grant institution in the history of the United States to be defunded. “I will tell you, if you have written letters, and many, many people have, this is a good thing,” he said. “They are starting to sense there are a lot of people out there who just don’t want this to happen.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones updated senators on a variety of initiatives, including LionPath, WorkLion, and the new website for University policies, policy.psu.edu. Jones also encouraged faculty to participate in the values and cultures survey. The survey is being conducted by the Ethics Research Center, a third-party organization, and is completely confidential; Penn State will receive no individually identifiable information.

In other business, the Faculty Senate:

— Approved a motion to support the move to make Penn State a smoke-free, tobacco-free university by prohibiting smoking and tobacco use on all University owned or leased properties, facilities and vehicles. The task force, appointed in January by President Barron, presented a report on its findings and seven recommendations for consideration. A soft launch of the policy, if accepted by the administration, would roll out in January 2018, with the policy coming completely into effect in fall 2018, allowing time for the recommendations to be implemented and for each campus to work collaboratively with their respective communities.

— Approved a motion to endorse and continue the University’s current efforts to defer recruitment for members of fraternities and sororities until 14 credits are earned. The motion was presented by Kevin Harwell, chair of the Senate Committee on Student Life. Penn State has put in place numerous new reforms for Greek-letter organizations at the University, with the primary focus on student safety.

— Heard an overview of upcoming changes to the University’s 2018 health plan, from Greg Stoner, senior director of compensation and benefits. With the ending of the 10-year Highmark Blue Shield contract on Dec. 31, 2017, Penn State will be changing its third-party medical plan administrator on Jan. 1, 2018, to Aetna. The University also will transition to a new pharmacy benefits administrator, CVS/Caremark, and FSA/HSA spending accounts will be administered by HealthEquity. Unum will be the new Life and Disability insurance carrier, and for the first time, Penn State will also be offering an optional Short Term Disability plan. The benefits open enrollment period runs Nov. 1-17 and employees can visit http://openenrollment.psu.edu to access the tools and resources needed to help make benefit elections.

— Received a report from University Faculty Ombudsperson Pamela P. Hufnagel on the duties and activities of University ombudspersons in Penn State’s colleges, campuses and units. Ombudspersons are available to faculty members as advisers and mediators when issues involving faculty rights and responsibilities have not been successfully resolved through the normal channels of administrative responsibility and procedure. A list of the 2017-2018 ombudspersons for each unit is available.

— Received a report on the distribution of research incentive funds by Penn State’s colleges, administrative units and Commonwealth Campuses.

— Listened to a report on the activities and strategic priorities of the internationally recognized Penn State University Press, presented by Director Patrick Alexander.

The University Faculty Senate’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in 112 Kern Building at University Park.

The full agenda for the Oct. 17 meeting is available on the Faculty Senate website. Meetings also are livestreamed and archived via Mediasite.

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Last Updated October 24, 2017