Faculty Senate approves major revisions to general education curriculum

May 03, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The University’s Faculty Senate voted Tuesday (April 28) to approve changes to Penn State’s general education curriculum that include updated learning objectives and changes to the curricular structure, after a lengthy review and input process.

In a separate vote, the Senate approved six recommendations from General Education Planning and Oversight Task Force. These recommendations include: revisions to the general education curricular structure; an update on the learning objectives, a regular and ongoing assessment plan for general education; renaming the health and physical activity to health and wellness; renaming the “skills” and “knowledge domains” as “foundations” and “breadth across knowledge domains,” respectively; requiring a grade of C or better for foundation courses; and requiring six credits of integrative studies, while increasing the flexibility for students to meet the general education requirements. For a look at the committee’s report and an explanation of many of the changes, read more here.

The next phase in the revision of general education will be implementation of the report by the University Faculty Senate.

Also Tuesday, the Senate announced its election results. James Strauss, senior instructor in the Eberly College of Science was elected chair-elect; and Laura Pauley, professor of mechanical engineering, was elected Senate secretary. Appointments to the Faculty Advisory Committee to the President; Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities; University Promotion and Tenure Committee; and Standing Joint Committee on Tenure also were included in the election results.

Provost Nicholas P. Jones addressed the Faculty Senate on several issues, including the University’s health care coverage. In March, the Faculty Senate voted to approve sending to President Eric Barron recommendations on employees’ contributions to the University’s health care costs.

Provost Jones said the University, which is self-insured, pays 75 cents of every dollar for health care costs, which adds up to nearly $200 million a year, of which Penn State pays about $150 million and employees pay $50 million.

“At the rates of increase we have experienced recently, the total costs will potentially increase annually at 8 percent or about $16 million per year,” Jones said. “An increase of this magnitude is simply not sustainable from an operating budget perspective, and it significantly impairs our ability as an institution to direct investments in other areas of our employment package, for example, compensation.”

He said the University is working to reduce its total costs, including undergoing an audit of Highmark’s claim payment system, implementing a data warehouse to study the population’s risks and health care outcomes; exploring lower-cost preferred providers for lab services; and implementing an on-site clinic at University Park in conjunction with the College of Nursing. (Read more on the work by the Health Care Advisory Committee.)

He said the University recognizes the concerns raised by faculty and will not implement any major changes to the health care plans in the next calendar year as “we take time to better understand the effects of the high-deductible health plan.”

Jones also addressed recommendations on tuition discount eligibility for dependents of faculty, staff and retirees that the Faculty Senate had approved in December 2014. The recommendations, aimed at modernizing a policy more than 70 years old, included: covering married children as well as unmarried; allowing children to receive the credit for all undergraduate credits, not limiting it to the first bachelor’s degree; eliminating a two-year waiting period for spouses; and providing the benefit for an entire semester even if an employee becomes ineligible during the semester.

Jones said that the University administration will support those recommendations, but will include an age limit of 26 on those who can receive the benefits. He said that was in line with what other Big10 institutions offer, according to benchmarking, and aligns with Penn State’s other benefits eligibilities.

In other matters, the Senate:

  • Approved an advisory and consultative report recommending changes to the University’s employee life insurance policy. The recommendation is to replace the University’s current policy, which provides a $5,000 policy to employees that continues after retirement, with a policy that provides a $50,000 policy for active employees only. Employees retiring within 10 years would be eligible to have the $5,000 policy upon retiring. The recommendations will be forward to President Barron for consideration;
  • Approved revisions to the Senate policy on class attendance aimed at strengthening attendance expectations and encouraging communication about attendance between instructors and students;
Last Updated May 03, 2015