Faculty Senate opens fall semester with productive meeting

September 21, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Professor of English Michael Bérubé brought a sense of levity to the opening remarks at his first meeting as chair of the University Faculty Senate, joking that his predecessor Matthew Woessner “handed over the reins and the gavel in what was mostly a peaceful transfer of power” last spring.

But Bérubé also brought a sense of forward-thinking optimism, noting that while the Chronicle of Higher Education has found that many faculty senates across the nation struggle to affect change, the Penn State Faculty Senate has recently accomplished two major and “critically important” updates to University policy: strengthening and adding an appeals process to the policy on outside business and private consulting, and clarifying ambiguities in the policy on political campaign activities to “affirm the principles of academic freedom.”

“I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to strengthen shared governance at Penn State,” Bérubé said.

Updates from the president and provost

Penn State President Eric Barron began his remarks to the senate by sharing some good news: Penn State’s research expenditures last year reached a record-breaking $927 million, with increases in both federal support and in nearly every category of research. He praised the faculty for their outstanding work, noting that figure is only possible because of individual professors and researchers.

Barron shared that the University has been working with outside consultants to benchmark Penn State against some of its peer institutions, who have noted the University’s unique place among American colleges.

“Penn State’s academic rankings, the strength of its brand, financial stability and our technological abilities have put us a place that is different from many other universities,” Barron said. “We are in a position better-suited than many others to take on the most pressing, innovative challenges for the future.”

Barron also discussed a report from a Penn State task force on online learning, which has been exploring ways that the University “can be more, integrated, flexible and responsive as institution” as its online offerings continue to grow. The task force’s initial report included five governing principles to help shape the future of online education at Penn State: provide a seamless student experience, achieve curricular coherence, design relevant and responsive programs, engage learners through their lifetimes, and achieve the highest level of efficiency of University resources.

Provost Nick Jones updated the senate on searchers for leadership positions across the University, including ongoing searches for the deans of Liberal Arts, Dickinson Law, and Arts and Architecture, as well as searches for a new vice president for Human Resources and vice provost for Global Programs. Jones also updated the senate on recent rankings reports, coming updates to IT security and LionPATH, and the progress of Penn State’s new business and finance system, called SIMBA.

Additional business

The senate approved an update to its constitution providing a clearer definition of “University faculty,” a revision to the bylaws that permits a two-thirds majority of the Senate Council to call itself into special session without the approval of the chair, and a second bylaws update that reduces the paperwork burden for minor editorial changes to senate materials.

The senate also heard reports from:

  • Penn State Academic Trustee David Han, who discussed working with the Board of Trustees to improve shared governance at the University;
  • Senior Director for Business Intelligence Jon Crutchfield, who discussed data as a strategic asset to the University and his office’s work to create a comprehensive and transparent data ecosystem at Penn State;
  • The Senate Committee on Student Life, which reported on time management resources available to students and student athletes;
  • The senate committees on Admissions, Records, Scheduling, and Student Aid and Undergraduate Education, which updated the senate on aligning academic requirements for students across campuses;
  • Vice President for Facilities Management Bill Sitzabee, who updated the senate on the ongoing process of Penn State’s campus planning and the construction capital plan.

The next meeting of the University Faculty Senate will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 23 in 112 Kern Graduate Building.

Last Updated September 25, 2018