Senate receives update on in-person learning, approves leadership nominations

March 19, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the latest meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate (March 17), senators received an update from University leadership on Penn State’ virus mitigation strategies and plans to return to in-person learning. They also heard a report on the University’s updated consensual relationships policy, approved the slate of nominees for committee membership and Senate leadership for the 2021-22 academic year, and passed a package of interconnected reforms to the Senate’s constitution, bylaws and standing rules.

Updates from University leadership

Penn State President Eric J. Barron shared his vision of “cautious optimism” for the future, including the University’s planned phased return to in-person learning. He said Penn State continues to carefully monitor the virus, while increasing rates of vaccination — including the federal government’s goal for all adults in the United States to have access to the vaccine by the end of May — bode well for the University’s ability to slowly and safely resume in-person on-campus instruction and offer a greater range of student engagement opportunities.

“We’ve worked very hard, and continue to work very hard, to make sure our people are safe, employed and able to deliver the curriculum and services that are so important to our students,” Barron said. “We will continue to watch this very, very carefully as we move back toward being a more open University.”  Barron also described the benefits of the American Recovery Act which help provide financial relief for the university as it works to manage the impact of the pandemic on university budgets.

Barron commented on the success of Penn State’s hiring of new men’s basketball head coach Micah Shrewsberry, praising the coach’s extensive experience and commitment to students. He also noted that Penn State is one of a select few universities with African American head coaches leading both their football and men’s basketball programs, which continues to reflect Penn State’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Barron affirmed that working to diversify the University’s faculty is an ongoing priority in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion across the University, and thanked the Senate for its dedication to helping create a better, more equitable Penn State.

In his remarks, Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones welcomed new Dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications Faye Chadwell to Penn State and shared the news that Yvonne Gaudelius has been named Penn State’s permanent vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education, following a national search. He also noted the University has searches underway for the next dean of the Schreyer Honors College and will begin in the near future for the next vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of the Graduate School.

Jones shared that Penn State has “robust applications across the board,” and that paid accepts are trending in a positive direction. He noted that University Park applications are slightly behind this time last year, but said the University’s recent announcement of its return to in-person learning will likely help undecided students finalize their decisions. Jones also updated the Senate on the status of the University’s Strategic Plan, which is approaching finalization and moving on to implementation.

Speaking to the University’s ongoing virus testing and mitigation efforts, Jones noted the combination of pre-arrival and on-arrival testing has yielded a good start to the semester and that Penn State continues to employ a combination of walk-up, surveillance and symptomatic testing as part of its multilayered mitigation strategy. Both Jones and Barron affirmed that Penn State is prepared to serve as a vaccine distribution point, should the University be asked to do so by state public health authorities.

In response to questions from faculty, Jones said that faculty will be able to request an exception to in-person teaching for the fall semester should they have medical or personal considerations that would prevent them from doing so, and that additional information is forthcoming. He also noted that Penn State will continue to closely monitor and follow all relevant public health guidance.

Updates to consensual relationships policy

The Senate’s Committee on Faculty Affairs — joined by Suzanne Adair, associate vice president for Affirmative Action, and Ann Taylor, assistant dean for distance learning in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences — presented an informational report about the University’s updated consensual relationships policy.

Officially implemented in January, University policy AD102 strengthens and expands on longstanding University policy, which was included within the prior version of policy AD85. Whereas the previous policy discouraged relationships between employees in which one party has evaluative or supervisory authority over the other, the updated policy specifically prohibits such relationships. The previous policy also discouraged relationships between employees and students; the updated policy prohibits relationships between employees and students when one party has supervisory or evaluative authority over the other. The policy also requires that any consensual relationship between an employee and a student in the same academic or work unit be reported to the University, even if no supervisory role currently exists.

Updates to the policy are designed to promote transparency when such relationships do occur, and to outline clear expectations and procedures for addressing potential conflicts of interest. Adair noted that such policies are commonplace across higher education in the current climate of continued efforts to ensure that all members of our campus communities are respected, valued and welcomed.

Review of the policy began in 2018 and updates were developed by a special joint committee that included members of Faculty Senate, University leadership, college and unit leadership, faculty, staff and Penn State Human Resources, who solicited input from a wide range of stakeholders and benchmarked against best practices at peer institutions.

Adair said the committee was driven by Penn State’s commitment to consistently review policy and uphold the highest level of ethical standards.

Voting reforms, nominee approvals, and other business

The Senate voted to approve a package of updates to its constitution, bylaws and standing rules that change how the Senate tallies the results in votes requiring a supermajority. Previously, the Senate required a supermajority “of the Senators present,” while the updates now require a supermajority “of the votes cast.”  Victor Brundsen, chair of the Senate Committee on Committees and Rules, said these reforms will allow senators to abstain from future votes “without their abstention effectively being converted into a ‘no’ vote.”

The Senate also approved the slate of nominees to committees and to Senate Council, with senators Roger Egolf, assistant professor of chemistry at Penn State Lehigh Valley, and Maureen Jones, associate teaching professor of health policy and administration, being nominated for the position of chairs-elect. The Senate will vote on the nominees at its final meeting of the semester on April 27 .

Other business undertaken by the Senate included:

The Faculty Senate will hold its final meeting of the 2020-21 academic year on April 27, which will be viewable virtually on Zoom.

 

Last Updated March 19, 2021