Faculty Senate hears from Board of Trustees leadership

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's University Faculty Senate on Tuesday (March 13) heard from Board of Trustees Chair Karen Peetz and Vice Chair Keith Masser, who explained the board's role in University governance, potential committee changes, and also answered questions.

Peetz said "transparency, change and reform" are the themes for the board under her and Masser's leadership, noting that they "are interested in opening up a debate… of what is the best practice Penn State can have in terms of how we govern ourselves and how we move forward."

The board is considering a reorganized committee structure with five standing committees, including three new committees -- governance and long-range planning; risk, compliance, legal and audit; and outreach, development and community relations, Peetz said. Committees on academic affairs and student life and finance, business and capital planning represent previously existing committees. The board will deliberate and vote on the committee structure at its March 16 meeting.

The reorganized committees would improve oversight and include students, faculty and alumni in advisory roles. Currently, bylaws call for three representatives each from faculty, students and administrative fellows to be invited in a non-voting capacity to the board's public meetings.

"This is meant to be outwardly looking, outwardly reaching and engaging, as we move forward," Peetz said, adding that the structure can engage not only the board, but also leadership of alumni, students and the University. She also explained the changes are intended only as a first step with the expectation that governance will change and evolve in the future.

Asked about the University's public status given declining state funding, Peetz said there are many factors to consider and many options will be discussed. For example, Masser and Peetz met informally with trustees from Cornell -- a private land-grant university that receives funding from the state of New York for certain programs -- to learn more about how its private and public functions are managed.

She said Cornell's model is of interest, but emphasized that "we can't rush to any quick solution." No such decisions have been made about the University's direction as a public university and would take considerable time, with significant input from faculty and others necessary. Currently, board members are simply listening to various ideas.

When asked later about the discussions with a Cornell trustee, Peetz said Penn State administrators and the board believe deeply in the University's historic land-grant mission that has served the Commonwealth so well over the past 150 years and do not have plans to be a private institution. Cornell is a land-grant with a different model.

"We obviously want to continue this relationship, but after decades of cuts to state funding, the University now needs some direction from the Commonwealth regarding what the nature of our partnership should be going forward," she said. "We readily embrace our public mission, but still face year upon year of continued reductions in state support."

Peetz began with an overview of the trustees' responsibilities and the composition of the board, which she said is viewed nationally as unique for a public university because of its diverse membership. She noted that with the exception of ex officio trustees, all terms are for three years with 15-year term limits. As in every year, three alumni trustees, two agricultural trustees and two business and industry trustees will be elected this spring.

"There's a perception that the board doesn't want things to change. Things change every year," Peetz said. "We embrace the concept of new people coming on. It's healthy and productive to have new ideas and new people join you. I'm sure the best people will win and they will enjoy being on the board. It's not something to be afraid of; it's something to embrace."

Asked to explain the timing and the reason for a report of the board's decisions of Nov. 9, 2011, issued on Monday (March 12) by the board, Peetz said it was "long overdue," and it would have been better to have released the report in December. Peetz said trustees spoke to media in January offering individual accounts of the decisions, but that those did not provide a complete narrative. After delays and debate, and hearing from concerned groups, the trustees decided it was necessary to have a full statement on the record explaining the decisions.

Senate Chair Daniel Hagen said in his remarks that, following a senator's request in January and discussion by Senate Council, a special senate committee on University governance will be charged with comparing the structure, purpose and function of the Board of Trustees with peer institutions and identify ways to increase interaction in the future between the board and constituent groups.

The meeting opened with remarks from President Rodney Erickson, who briefly discussed his appearances before the state House and Senate appropriations committees regarding Commonwealth funding of the University and said he heard support from legislators from both parties. He said regardless of the outcome, he expects this to be a financially challenging year.

Erickson said he met earlier this week with the other members of the Governor's Commission on Higher Education, a 29-member panel tasked with examining broad issues of higher education in Pennsylvania. The commission is charged with looking at the future needs and demands of students and ways to collaborate.

In new legislative business, the senate approved a resolution honoring "the memory of Professor and Coach Joseph V. Paterno, faculty member, beloved coach, humanitarian, and philanthropist…" The full text of the resolution can be viewed at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appm.pdf.

In other business, senators approved revisions to the senate policy on limitations to enrollment as a nondegree student. Under the changes, a student may remain in nondegree status for 30 credits and must achieve a semester grade point average of 2.01 or higher each semester. Students who do not meet provisions will be dismissed and may only re-enter through the academic renewal process. View the revisions at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appd.pdf.

The United States cultures and international cultures requirement was revised to add interpersonal communication and interaction issues components to the components used in the graded evaluation of student performances in those courses. The background and revisions can be viewed at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appc.pdf.

The credit by examination policy also was revised. Current policy allows departments to offer credit by examination for courses in which a student has not already received a grade or for which credit already has been received. The revision prohibits credit by examination for any course for which a student was in scheduled status -- enrolled in classes but not having paid the semester bill -- for that class after the late drop date of the course. The revised policy can be viewed at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appe.pdf.

Michael Adewumi, vice provost for Global Programs, presented an informational report on progress toward realizing Penn State's potential as a global university, a goal of the University's current strategic plan. Adewumi said Penn State ranks seventh among U.S. doctorate institutions in study-abroad participation, with growing, faculty-led embedded programs and a well-established risk management structure. International student enrollment has grown significantly during the past five years, with a 56 percent growth overall and a 171 percent growth in undergraduate international student enrollment. He noted, however, that more than 60 percent of international students at Penn State come from three countries -- China, South Korea and India.

Adewumi also highlighted the Global Engagement Network, faculty-driven, organically-developed and administratively-enabled partnerships with universities around the world. The network, he said, encourages education abroad, attracts highly qualified international students, encourages diverse perspectives and deepens collaborations while focusing on global challenges. Adewumi's full presentation is online at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appf.pdf.

The senate received the nominating reports for 2012-13 for election to the Senate Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, Standing Joint Committee on Tenure and University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. The nominees are listed at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appg.pdf.

Senate Council presented the nominating report for chair-elect, secretary and Faculty Advisory Committee to the President. Mohamad A. Ansari, associate professor of mathematics at Penn State Berks, and Brenton M. Yarnal, professor of geography, were nominated for chair-elect. John W. Bagby, professor of information sciences and technology; Pamela P. Hufnagel, senior instructor in education at Penn State DuBois; and Joanna M. Kulikowich, professor of education, were nominated for secretary. Jeffrey A. Laman, professor of engineering; James A. Strauss, senior lecturer in Eberly College of Science; and Linda C. Strauss, assistant professor of statistics, were nominated for Faculty Advisory Committee.

Senate Council also submitted a report on officers' visits to University Park units, which can be viewed at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/mar2012/appl.pdf.

The Senate also received annual reports on faculty tenure flow rates and faculty salaries, as well as the 2012-13 roster of senators.

The next Faculty Senate meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. on April 24 in room 112 Kern Graduate Building, University Park.

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Last Updated March 19, 2012