Senate updates faculty hiring policy to support diversity, equity and inclusion

May 06, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At its final meeting of the 2019-20 academic year, the Penn State Faculty Senate passed landmark legislation updating its full-time faculty hiring policy for the first time in more than 20 years, as one step in continued efforts to advance the University’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Also at the April 28 meeting of the senate, which was held remotely, University leadership said  information about plans for the fall 2020 semester will be shared by mid-June. The senate also hosted a “micro-summit on sustainability” that culminated with passing a University climate action resolution.

Diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring

Updating faculty hiring policy AC-13, implemented in 1999, has been a focus of the senate for the past several years as part of Penn State’s commitment to diversifying its faculty and fostering a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Among the changes advanced in the updated policy are requirements that units beginning the faculty hiring process determine areas of underrepresentation before forming a search committee; that all search committees should represent a broad range of diversity, and that if such representation is unable to be obtained within the unit, committee members should be solicited from related units; and to document efforts to recruit applicants who are members of underrepresented groups.

“The goal with these changes is to be more proactive in our hiring process and to ensure that we form search committees that represent a sufficiently diverse group of individuals who bring a multitude of perspectives and experiences to the table, in order to effectively recruit and retain a more diverse faculty population than we currently have across the University,” said Suzanne Adair, associate vice president for Affirmative Action. “We expect academic programs and departments not to be passive, but to be very intentional, in these efforts.”

Adair and Kathleen Bieschke, vice provost for faculty affairs, both played a key role in developing the new version of the policy, working in close collaboration with multiple senate committees and other key stakeholders across the University.

“We wanted to align this policy with Penn State’s current practices and strategic goals surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Bieschke said. “We also wanted to lay out the responsibilities of the committee members and chair, including an emphasis on a search committee’s  duty to both create a candidate pool of people highly qualified for the position, as well as implement a recruiting strategy that results in an appropriately diverse candidate pool.”

Faculty Senate Chair Nicholas Rowland praised Bieschke, Adair and the senate for their work in support of diversity, equity and inclusion. As with all adopted policies, the final version will be shared with University leadership for approval by the president.

“Advancing inclusion, equity and diversity is one of the foundations of Penn State’s Strategic Plan; it is a moral imperative, and it is critical to Penn State’s long-term success. This updated faculty hiring policy represents another step forward in our ongoing commitment to recruit and support a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “This has been a tremendous effort involving Faculty Senate and University leadership. Ultimately, success in bringing this policy to life rests with all of us at Penn State, as part of our shared commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive community.”

Updates from University leadership

Penn State President Eric Barron and Jones both provided updates on University operations during a question-and-answer session with senators. Barron and Jones said they will keep the University and local community informed about plans for fall semester, and said they would provide additional updates and information by June 15, if not earlier.

Jones said they are exploring “the myriad questions” related to fall semester, and University leaders are  making decisions in coordination with experts and based on the best available public health information.

Barron and Jones also noted the eventual resumption of in-person instruction and return of employees to workspaces would be informed by guidance from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and other health authorities. University leadership recently announced that employees who currently are telecommuting should continue to do so through at least the end of May.

Senate summit on sustainability

Rowland has described sustainability as a key strategic priority for his term as Faculty Senate chair, and his final meeting in that position included a wide-ranging look at sustainability across Penn State.

In this “summit on sustainability,” senators heard from an alumnus working in the sustainability field in the private sector, as well as from a current student, both of whom affirmed that Penn State has taken major strides to be a leader in the area of sustainability, but also urged the faculty and administration to continue thinking critically about how Penn State can incorporate sustainability at all levels of the University. The agenda also included a look at sustainability initiatives within Penn State IT, and at sustainability opportunities through education aboard.

Barron shared several recent sustainability successes including the solar power array installed near Mount Nittany Medical Center for teaching and research purposes, as well as the 150,000-solar-panel array installed through a public-private partnership in Franklin County that will provide 25% of Penn State’s purchased electricity over the next 25 years.

The senate also passed a climate action resolution calling on University leadership to develop a “climate action and adaptation plan” to reduce Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions, expand academic and research climate science initiatives, and continue to partner with other universities, governmental bodies and private entities to develop and advance climate solutions.

Currently, Penn State has developed multiple strategies to reduce its energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. The University is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% from its peak in 2005 by 2020. It has an even more ambitious target of an 85% reduction by 2050. In addition, much of Penn State’s Strategic Plan is aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which serve as a guide to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges by 2030.  A report from the Penn State Sustainability Institute highlights progress made to date.

Other business

Other business undertaken by the senate includes:

The passing of the gavel

At the conclusion of the meeting, Rowland announced the results of senate elections for committee and leadership positions for the 2020-21 academic year before officially passing the gavel to incoming Faculty Senate Chair Elizabeth Seymour, a faculty member at Penn State Altoona.

In formally concluding his term as chair of the Faculty Senate, Rowland acknowledged the unforeseen challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Even in the face of categorically unpredictable setbacks, you were like warriors,” he said, thanking the senators for their hard work to continue to meet remotely, and developing and passing legislation responding to the pandemic under difficult circumstances.

“I, for one, am proud of us and all that we have done,” Rowland said. “Shared governance is strong at Penn State. Our actions have proved that.”

He concluded his remarks with a meditation on the importance of shared governance, and urged each senator to remain vigilant and “to be a moral voice for good in the institution.”

Seymour – an associate teaching professor of anthropology, communications, history, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies on the Altoona campus – began her term by thanking Rowland for his “guidance, support, generosity and leadership over the past year” and spoke to overcoming the collective obstacles facing the University.

She laid out a vision of Penn State as a flexible and adaptable institution during this challenging time, with a focus on the health of its community, the quality of its academics and the depth of its commitment to impact as a land-grant university.

“Shared governance is our strength,” Seymour concluded. “It will help us get through this and ensure we not only survive this as an institution, but strengthen our ability to recognize our core mission.”

Last Updated April 15, 2021