Faculty Senate covers range of topics at first meeting of 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Faculty Senate covered a wide range of topics during its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 23, including record-breaking research expenditures and fundraising totals, information security measures, the University’s unmanned aircraft policy, and LionPATH implementation.

Penn State President Eric Barron provided the senate with an update on the University’s many successes over the past year, focusing in particular on accomplishments related to research and fundraising. Barron noted that:

— Last year the University’s new fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” experienced the third-highest fundraising total in Penn State history and, based on the first six months of the fiscal year, is on pace to set a new fundraising record in 2017-18. In addition, Barron said that the University had one of the largest increases in alumni donors of any Big Ten school last year.

“The fact that we had a 5 percent increase in alumni donations is quite a statement of how our alumni are feeling about Penn State,” Barron said.

— Penn State’s research expenditures hit an all-time high of $863 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and the University is on track to break that record again this year. Barron pointed out that Penn State has 15 disciplines in the top 10 for research funding, tied for first nationally with Johns Hopkins University. 

“It is also very exciting to see that in the social sciences we rank third in the nation in terms of funding,” Barron said. “That’s also quite a statement about the productivity of our faculty.”

Barron also detailed the successes of the Invent Penn State initiative in helping to drive innovation and entrepreneurship at the University, noting a $1 million gift received from PNC Bank this week to endow the Happy Valley LaunchBox in State College.

Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones addressed the senate about information security, focusing on email security and phishing attacks on University email users. Jones said that, on average, more than 300 email accounts at Penn State are compromised each month through phishing. The University is taking an aggressive approach to ensure that such malicious emails do not reach Penn State inboxes, Jones said.

“During the month of December, we blocked an average of 40,000 such emails per day,” said Jones. “That is out of an average of about 1.3 million daily messages coming from outside of Penn State.”

In an effort to help educate the Penn State community about the dangers of phishing schemes, Jones said the University will be sending out fake phishing messages in an attempt to deter users from clicking on real phishing emails in the future.

“We will tell you when that is happening and we will advertise it broadly,” Jones said. “If you click on one of these fake phishing messages, we will tell you that it was fake and suggest strongly that you partake in some training about how to recognize phishing messages. It’s important not only for Penn State and your professional lives, but also personally, because some of these phishing messages are pretty sophisticated, and that’s not a risk you want to take.”

Jones provided an update on several searches to fill high-profile job openings at the University. He indicated that interviews have concluded for the dean of the College of Nursing, and that he expects a decision in that search soon. Preliminary interviews are scheduled for the director of the Millennium Scholars Program during the second week of February, and national searches are ongoing to identify the next deans for the College of the Liberal Arts and the College of Health and Human Development.

Jones also offered details about a series of Strategic Plan forums taking place at University Park this spring, and he updated the senate on the WorkLion launch, saying he expects the Jan. 31 payroll cycle to go smoothly for faculty and staff.

In other Faculty Senate news:

— Barron and Jones engaged with senators in a discussion about University Policy AC 21 “Definition of Academic Ranks” and the issue of contract length for fixed-term faculty members. President Barron responded to the senate's recommended changes to the policy in a letter on Jan. 22 and indicated at the meeting that he was interested in continuing the dialogue to find a workable solution.

— In unfinished business from its Dec. 5 meeting, the senate passed a revision to its bylaws adding one student senator representing the Graduate and Professional Student Association and approved a revision to its constitution clarifying that senate actions apply to all graduate, professional and undergraduate educational interests at the University, including both resident and online instruction.

— The senate approved revised guidelines for academic program information appearing in the University Bulletin, as proposed by the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs. The revisions will allow for greater flexibility as the University moves toward a digital bulletin.

— The senate voted to endorse proposed revisions to University Policy SY 45 “Use of Unmanned Aircraft.” The existing policy, which went into effect in September 2015, established a blanket prohibition on the operation of unmanned aircraft at the University. The revised policy states that all UA users must abide by Federal Aviation Administration regulations and outlines requirements for UA operations at Penn State.

— Members of the LionPATH team updated senators on the implementation of the LionPATH project. To date, more than 173,000 student users have accessed the system, and during the 2016-17 academic year, LionPATH processed 108,262 student applications, enabled 108,124 distinct students to register for more than 1 million different courses, collected $1.8 billion in tuition, and disbursed $1.2 billion in financial aid. Efforts are ongoing to improve the LionPATH user interface and functionality.

— The senate heard a report from the University Libraries on its collections budget for the 2017 fiscal year, as well as an update on the scholarly publishing landscape.

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

The full agenda for the Jan. 23 meeting is available on the Faculty Senate website. Meetings also are livestreamed and archived via Mediasite.

Last Updated January 24, 2018