Faculty Senate hears alcohol overview, revises academic freedom policy

December 09, 2010

University Park, Pa. — Penn State's University Faculty Senate on Tuesday (Dec. 7) received an expansive overview of efforts by the University to combat excessive alcohol consumption, and revised the 60 year-old academic freedom policy to define the term and reflect developments in technology and higher education.

Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs, told the Senate that nationwide last year, more than 1,800 students died from alcohol-related causes, and more than 1 million reported symptoms of alcohol abuse. No institution, Sims noted, could claim to have solved the problem, and at Penn State significant effort has been expended over the years to curb the issues.

He said he is optimistic about the collaboration among faculty, staff, students and community members during the past year to take new approaches to dealing with excessive drinking. He encouraged faculty to continue to be a part of the efforts.
Sims previously outlined for the University's Board of Trustees the efforts under way to mitigate alcohol abuse. For more on the University's strategy, visit http://live.psu.edu/story/48478.
Careen Yarnal, chair of the Senate Committee on Student Life, highlighted some classroom-based faculty initiatives to address alcohol issues. A 15-member group working on academic solutions suggests faculty provide a consistent message about academic opportunities and how they can be negatively affected by high-risk drinking. Yarnal also said the group is collaborating with the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence to disseminate information on classroom-based approaches and will seek to evaluate the impact of such initiatives.
The Senate also approved revisions to Policy HR64: Academic Freedom. Written in 1950 and last revised in 1987, the revisions seek to ensure the policy remains current, balanced and inclusive.
Changes include strengthening the "Purpose" clause of the policy to provide a definition for academic freedom, stressing its fundamental importance and accompanying responsibilities for all parties. The revised policy includes the protection of academic freedom for librarians in their role in teaching and research, extends the idea of the classroom to include online instruction converts classroom restrictions to affirmative principles.
A section also is added to confirm faculty members' freedom to speak and write on University governance issues while also exercising professional responsibility.
To see the changes to the policy, go to http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2010-2011/dec2010/appd.pdf
The Senate passed a legislative report allowing non-University Park campuses, which are not subject to the rules of the Big Ten or NCAA Division I, flexibility to assess a student-athlete's eligibility for competition after the semester begins. Faculty Athletics Representatives may now grant waivers to the existing rule requiring the evaluation for eligibility at the beginning of the semester for reasons such as a grade change after the semester has started or deferred or late-reported grades. See the amended policy at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2010-2011/dec2010/appc.pdf.
The Senate received several more informational reports as well:
• The Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs presented a report on Online Student Ratings of Teaching Effectiveness (SRTE). Some departments over the past eight years began using an online format for administering the SRTE, prompting the University to assess the feasibility of moving administration of the SRTE online. One particular concern, the committee reported, is a decrease in response rates, which could undermine confidence in the results.
Unlike the paper SRTE, the online version does not take away class time, and allows all students taking a course two weeks to complete the evaluation, which also allows for more thorough written comments about the course. Online evaluations also eliminate coding and reading errors, and results are available immediately after all final grades for a course have been submitted.
• Additionally, the Senate received reports on the evolution and future of Penn State Cooperative Extension and the significance of Penn State's Energy Innovation HUB, a large-scale projected funded by the Department of Energy to establish research and development to transform the U.S. building industry and radically improve energy efficiency. Senators also received an explanation of Penn State employee health benefits. The meeting concluded with the annual report on petitions for exception to Senate policy and an update from the Early Progress Report Design Team.  To view these reports, visit http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2010-2011/dec2010/dec2010agn.html


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Last Updated December 09, 2010