Sunday, July 29, 2012

Penn State Senate Council Meets; Votes to Establish a Task Force to Consider Imlementation of Freeh Group Recommendations

On July 12, 2012 the Freeh Group delivered its report to Penn State (see, Statement of the Penn State University Faculty Senate Chair and Chair-Elect on the Release of the Freeh Group Report).  The Freeh Group Report contained a findings and conclusions based on its reading of the evidence it was able to collect and also provided a substantial number of recommendations for governance changes at the university.  Because the University Faculty Senate is an important stakeholder in governance, a special meeting of the University Faculty Senate Council was held on July 18, 2012 for the purpose of considering the Penn State University Senate's response to the recommendations of the Freeh Group Report. 

At that meeting, the Senate Council voted ot establish a committee to consider the Freeh Group recommendations and to help develop proposals for changes grounded in those recommendations ot the extent appropriate.  The official minutes of the meeting may be DOWNLOADED HERE. The official minutes set forth the authoritative record of the meeting. 

This post provides an informal summary of the meeting.  In the event of conflict the formal minutes will be regarded as authoritative.  My thanks to my colleague Dr. John Nousek for the great job of organizing these informal notes. The slides of the PowerPoint Presentation made by Chair Backer at the meeting may be accessed HERE.

Informal Notes
(Only Formal Minutes Are Authoritative) 
Special Senate Council Meeting
July 18, 2012
Chair Larry Catá Backer (Law) convened a special meeting of the Senate Council
on Wed., July 18, in 102 Kern at 1:30 PM. In attendance (either live or via
remote video conference) were all 16 Councilors. The purpose of the meeting
was to consider and organize the Senate's response to the Freeh Report.

Chair Backer summarized the Freeh Report into two parts: an evidentiary
component and a set of recommendations. We did not discuss the evidentiary
part, but the reaction to the recommendations was the principal purpose
of the meeting. (In his remarks and in the discussion it's clear the Council
is dissatisfied with the report. We believe the Report was prepared without
an understanding of the particular nature of universities (especially with
regard to the role of the faculty and the Senate), and was phrased in terms
of absolute direction and determinations that may not be accurate.)

Chair Backer summarized the response of the Administration and Board of
Trustees, so far. The Administration has formed a small group to coordinate
operationalization of the recommendations. The Board has created its own
small group under the leadership of the Vice Chair to coordinate the Board
response, and allocated to the standing committees the recommendations
appropriate to those committees.

The Board and Administration committees will work autonomously, and both
report back to the Board coordinating committee. The Senate will play
a role - "As we move forward, there are many decisions that must be made -
decisions that are not without consequences, and must not be done without
careful thought. Many of these decisions involve individuals and practices
woven into the fabric of our community" - Pres. Erickson, July 16 message.

Chair Backer then laid out the areas in which he felt the Senate should play
a role. These include: Procedural Fairness, Operationalization of the
Recommendations and Coordination. Under Procedural Fairness this
included scrupulous adherence to University procedures, seeing that they
are fairly and consistently applied. This is likely to apply to
revocation of tenure and contract non-renewals, which are likely governed
under faculty rights and responsibilities and PSU HR policies (especially
HR 70 and 76).

Operationalization will be concerned with determining which recommendations
fall within the Senate purview, reviewing the proposed implementation of
the recommendations (or possibly suggesting forms of implementation), and
addressing recommendations which the Senate finds problematic.

The Coordination role of the Senate includes responding to the initiatives
of the Administration task force, serving as a resource and consultative
body for Board initiatives, and participating in any governance rule

The role of Senate Leadership is to serve a 'bridging role' between the
Board and Administration and the faculty and Senate. They pledge to
present transparent, periodic and complete reports on the process to
the Senate bodies.

At this point Chair Backer opened up discussion which soon turned to
a motion on whether the Senate and Council should accept a role in
the response to the Freeh Report. The Council voted unanimously
that we should.

The Chair then asked for a structure through which the Council shall
act, and presented four options. After discussion the Council unanimously
approved creation of a Special Task Force, consisting of six Senators,
with the expectation that half will be Councilors, and half either chairs
or vice chairs of the Senate standing committees (with the possible
addition of a Senator who has similar qualifications and brings special
expertise to the mix.)

[As a side note: During this discussion a Councilor asked why
should we expect any change in the relation between the Senate
and the Board and the Administration when there are no changes
to the rules. The Chair replied that while there are no rule
changes (yet), the discretion of the Board and Administration
allows them to consult and include the faculty, and at this time
both parties are encouraging Faculty Senate involvement.]

Chair Backer then presented supplemental items of interest. There
are steps underway to include faculty members on the Board. At this
time the Chair of the Faculty Senate is invited to Board meetings,
but there is no voting member.

The Intercollegiate Athletics Committee is expected to take the lead
in the response to the NCAA investigation of PSU.

The Senate has requested a briefing on the settlements with the victims,
including the percentage covered by insurance, the effect on the
PSU budget, and any additional litigation.

Provost Pangborn reported that all indications are that the current
scandal has not had an adverse effect on planned enrollment at
PSU. Accepted admissions are up over last year's numbers.

During the open discussion Senators brought forward motions.
One motion called for the revocation of the Emeritus status for
Jerry Sandusky. Provost Pangborn explained that the University
is considering action, but is hampered by 'contractual issues',
and the lack of precedent (there is neither any direct statement
of process for revocation of Emeritus status in HR 70 or 76, nor
is there a previous example.) Council voted against the

Another motion called for the resignation of Steve Garban from the
Board on the basis that the Freeh Report revealed that he withheld
information from the Board. Council voted against this
motion. (Note that Steve Garban has since resigned without direct
action by the Council.)

A Councilor suggested the need for a motion to address the open issue
of the independent investigation called for during the special Senate
session in November, 2011. The argument was made that Senate
credibility is enhanced if we follow-through on our resolutions,
and thus we should take a stance on whether a separate investigation
should occur. Council discussion revealed some support for this view,
but there was also concern that the Freeh Report is imperfect, and
the Senate should not go on record even partially endorsing it.
There was also feeling that it is not necessary to take this action.
A motion concerning closure for the Senate resolution will be
presented at the next Council meeting, for consideration for
presentation at the next Senate meeting.

This concluded the Council meeting.

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