Faculty Senate discusses addressing misconduct, planning office space

November 08, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At its Oct. 29 meeting, the Penn State Faculty Senate hosted two forensic discussions on how the University can and should address allegations of faculty misconduct, and how to best utilize office space to support Penn State’s educational mission.

Addressing faculty misconduct

In June, Faculty Senate Chair Nicholas Rowland formed a special committee on addressing allegations of faculty misconduct and charged its members with developing a report that outlines a new potential policy for how the University will address misconduct allegations.

While the University does have several policies governing professional ethics and guidelines for what forms of misconduct may be grounds for termination, the special committee was formed because official guidance is less clear on how the University should respond to allegations of misconduct that may or may not rise to the level of termination.

Senators gave several examples of misconduct that they felt should have a clear policy statement for how the University would respond, such as abuse of authority against a student or employee, as well as bullying or threats of retaliation against someone who reports alleged misconduct. Senators were in agreement that these behaviors were unacceptable and should be the subject of more direct policy guidance.

Senators also expressed their shared preference for new potential policy to complement existing policies, such as those on sexual harassment or research misconduct, rather than being intended to replace these policies. Senators also said that this policy would require resource investments to ensure that the reporting and investigation process is unbiased and fair to both the reporter and the subject of the report.

The special committee will take the input and feedback provided in the forensic discussion and use it to shape a forthcoming advisory and consultative report planned for a future Senate meeting this academic year.

Standards for office space

The Senate Committees on Faculty Affairs, Intra-University Relations and University Planning led a conversation about the Faculty Senate’s guidelines on office space, with the goal of clarifying current procedure for determining the provision of adequate office space to better support faculty and staff in their day-to-day work for the University. For example, senators expressed concern that although Penn State offers guidelines on the maximum size of faculty office spaces, there are no guidelines on size minimums.

Multiple senators expressed that privacy is an important consideration for faculty office spaces and for multiple reasons, such as the need to discuss aspects of a student’s private educational record, such as a student’s grades, without other people being able to overhear. Another common thread was the need to ensure office spaces are accommodating and accessible to faculty members with disabilities.

Bill Sitzabee, associate vice president of Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant, noted that sustainability and efficient energy usage is also a major concern of the University’s when planning renovations or construction of new office space. He also noted that different disciplines and colleges often have different space needs, reflecting the variety of work undertaken at Penn State.

“The reality is that every different type of pedagogy is different and has different answers,” Sitzabee said.

Updates from University leadership

Penn State President Eric Barron addressed the Senate on the planned changes to the University’s budget process. He said the overhaul of the budget model is part of an ongoing effort to identify “functional efficiencies” that save money and make Penn State more cost-effective.

He explained that some of the principles guiding this process include “making sure we can provide robust salary increase for faculty and staff, continuing to promote academic excellence, and to ensure the renewal of the physical plant of the University continues at an appropriate pace.” Although the University is investigating a wide range of potential cost-saving initiatives, Barron affirmed that there is zero consideration of shuttering any of Penn State’s academic programs to save money.

All money saved as part of this process will be designated for one of two major initiatives: access and affordability, and investing in innovation. Money earmarked for access and affordability may be used to fund tuition freezes and investments in financial aid, while money invested in innovation will help Penn State achieve its vision for One Penn State 2025.

Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones also touched on the University’s budget process, and noted that Penn State’s new System for Integrated Management, Budgeting and Accounting (SIMBA) will launch on July 1, 2020.

Jones said that University has formed several taskforces to investigate topics of strategic importance to the University, including tuition and international student recruitment. Jones also shared that Penn State is launching a new pilot program to offer in-state tuition to out-of-state students who live in counties that directly adjoin Pennsylvania. This program is intended to help offset the fact that other institutions have “been aggressively pursuing Pennsylvania students.”

Other business

The Senate also:

  • passed two related revisions to the Senate’s standing rules that make the annual tenure flow and promotion flow reports a mandatory duty of the appropriate committees;
  • passed a revision to a University policy to change uses of the term “ombudsman” to “ombudsperson” in support of inclusivity in gender identity;
  • received a demonstration of the third-party Benefits Mentor tool available to help faculty and staff compare different benefits and insurance options to make informed decisions during Open Benefits Enrollment; and
  • received a presentation from Penn State’s Travel Safety Network, which provides numerous important resources to faculty traveling abroad, such as access to 24-hour emergency medical assistance and access to international travel insurance.

The next meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 in 102 Kern Graduate Building.

Last Updated November 08, 2019