Thursday, December 6, 2012

Informal Report: Faculty Senate meets for final meeting of 2012

In its final meeting for 2012, Penn State’s Faculty Senate on Tuesday (Dec. 4) held a forensic session on faculty appointment ratios; considered a motion supporting university leaders, heard a report on initiatives to address student alcohol issues; approved revisions to standing rules pertaining to faculty athletics representatives and received several informational reports.

This post summarizes the events of that meeting and provides links to more information.

In his opening remarks, Senate Chair Larry Backer, professor of international affairs and law, addressed some concerns about the Faculty Senate’s influence in University matters, past and future: “At its core, the issue that has been raised goes to the reality of shared governance within a hierarchically arranged, administratively fiefed, and increasingly budget driven and income producing institution, in which faculty may be understood more as a factor in the production of that income than as a significant stakeholder in the operation of this joint enterprise.” Chair noted the way in which the character of the Senate as a deliberative body that included many individuals of sometimes considerably diverse views shape the way in which Senate effectiveness should be understood. He sees “a renewed and very positive relationship between the Senate leadership and the University’s President, Provost and Board of Trustees. Rod Erickson, Rob Pangborn and Karen Peetz have done a tremendous amount since the start of their tenures to support the role of the Senate as an active and respected member of the university’s governance community. " He also noted as well the particular importance of Senate proactive engagement in the emerging key areas of (1) the development and elimination of courses and curricular program, (2) assessment of faculty, courses and programs to have direct input in those values and objectives that are the subject of assessment and to avoid inadvertent infringement of academic freedom and indirect behavior management through, and (3) faculty productivity and the elimination of administrative bloat, especially at the academic unit level. “I think that it is clear that the Senate is, in some ways, much more relevant now. It, like the University, faces challenges. But it remains a willing, and now, I think, a more able partner in moving the University forward while preserving the essential character of this institution as a premier public service mission teaching and research institution.”

Backer's opening remarks may be read at online.

--The Senate held a forensic session to discuss the increasing trend in the ratio of fixed-term faculty to standing faculty, as evidenced by previous reports made by the Senate Committee on Intra-University Relations. The session was held by Senators Timothy Lawlor, associate professor of physics and astrophysics, and Nicholas Rowland, professor of sociology. The session posed questions of whether it was time to establish thresholds or balances in regards to ratios of fixed-term faculty to standing faculty.

Senators raised a number of important questions about the nature of the condition of contract faculty experiences at Penn State: these included the perceived problems of unofficial policies at the unit level to reduce FT-M to FT 1 status, the teaching and research loads of fixed term or contract faculty, the relationship of contract to continuing term faculty, assessment of contract faculty, and the difficulty of obtaining useful data. As well, Senators raised several questions about the details of the forensic report itself: some were concerned that the report might be limited or not contain enough data or detail for a complete discussion of the subject. However, Lawlor and Rowland stressed that the forensic’s purpose was to decide if it is time to address these questions and concerns and take action. At the end of the session Chair Backer noted that the discussion should and will continue, inviting faculty to send in questions, ideas and opinions that would help continue the conversation at a future point and guide the committee’s ongoing efforts. He expressed the view that policies involving contract are an important part of the Senate’s business and ought not to be relegated to administrators as a mere budget allocation issue with after-the-fact descriptive review by the Senate.

--The Senate addressed a motion presented at the Oct. 16 meeting by Senator Thomas Beebee, professor of comparative literature and German, in which he made a proposal for the Senate to consider sending a statement to the NCAA that affirms the Senate's commitment to positive change. After some discussion Beebee requested that the motion be withdrawn, which approved by unanimous consent.

-- Senators voted on and approved several revisions to the Standing Rules for Faculty Athletics Representatives and the Senate Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as approved the establishment of a new Extra-Senatorial Committee on Campus Athletics.

Cynthia Robinson, director of the library at the College of Medicine and chair of Committees and Rules, and Jeffrey Laman, professor of civil engineering, who was chair of the Senate's Intercollegiate Athletics committee when these three reports were prepared, presented the report. With expansion of Athletics across Penn State, said Robinson, the revisions essentially “modify language in the standing rules to allow reconfiguration of the committee, and add an extra-senatorial committee that represents the various campuses.”

The policy changes are available as Appendixes D, E and F at online.

--Linda Clark, assistant professor of statistics, presented an informational report on the Faculty Partner Program (FPP), a joint venture between the Senate’s Intercollegiate Athletics Committee and Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. Modeled after Princeton University’s Academic-Athletic Fellows program, the goal of the FPP is to provide a partnership between the University’s academic and athletics units through increased contact and collaboration between faculty senators, athletic coaches and student-athletes.

In response to a question about making this kind of partnership available to students who are not athletes, Clark said that the program could be a model for additional programs at the University to connect faculty with various non-athletic student populations in order to strengthen mutual understanding. Senate Chair Backer invited faculty proposals for consideration of the expansion of this sort of partnership program for development.

The presentation is available at online.

--Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims reported on the effect of wide-ranging initiatives to address student alcohol issues at Penn State, providing baseline metrics from many of the initiatives to address these issues.

Sims reported that the initiatives fall into four categories -- education, environment, enforcement, and intervention – and the metrics include data collected from a host of sources, among them Mount Nittany Medical Center Emergency Department; the Office of Student Conduct; State College Police; Penn State SAFE (Student Alcohol Feedback and Education); State Patty’s Day 2012 student initiatives; the University’s fraternities and sororities; and the new Collegiate Recovery Community.

“We are committed to persisting and measuring our progress, sharing the results of those measurements widely, increasing our partnership with students and making adjustments as necessary,” said Sims. “It’s my belief that Penn State is headed in the right direction with this issue, and I hope you agree, and I believe that our students are headed there with us.” The comment period proved lively and informative. Particular emphasis was made of the need way in which the university approaches distinctions between stranger and acquaintance sexual aggression, including rape.

The Committee on Student Life plans to present the metrics on an annual basis. The full report is available at online.

-- Several other informational reports to the Senate included the following: curricular consultation suggestions and guidelines; unit development of faculty workload policies; student transition issues from the Commonwealth campuses to University Park; and enrollment and instructor patterns in general education courses. Annual informational reports also were presented on Faculty Senate scholarships awarded to undergraduates and a summary of student petitions by college, campus and unit for 2011-12.

Though the reports are now officially presented they should not be become mere archival matter. Chair Backer hopes that interested faculty will review these materials and use them in the service of faculty governance at the unit level. In addition, if any faculty, student, alumnus or other university stakeholder has questions or reactions to those reports they should be encouraged to contact Chair Backer for action.

The full agenda for the meeting is available at online. Meetings also are video archived via Mediasite, instructions for which are available at online.

The Faculty Senate will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in 112 Kern Graduate Building, University Park.

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