On September 17, 2012, I charged the Senate Self-Study Committee to creatively think about mechanisms by which the Senate could improve its role in shared governance and enhance faculty engagement. (). Through open communication, the committee received innovative ideas, concepts, and recommendations from the University’s primary stakeholders.
I wanted to thank the Self Study Committee, and its chair, Mohamad Ansari, for producing what in my opinion is an excellent report. Their collective and collaborative efforts shows what can be done with a group of dedicated faculty and administrators who operate in an open, transparent and cooperative way. The Committee's recommendations are intelligent, reasonable and modest. They are respectful of the Senate's culture and of the core objectives of shared governance. As important, they appear to conform very well to the sense of the Senate that they have worked tirelessly to incorporate into their work over the past several months. I could not be more pleased.
I am happy to post here the Advisory and Consultative Report prepared by the Self Study Committee, along with its recommendations. It is my hope that the Senate membership embraces these first steps toward the reorganization of this body so that it may emerge better prepared to engage usefully in shared governance within the modern university. Please send comments to Professor Ansari . The report follows:
SENATE SELF-STUDY COMMITTEE
Recommendations on Structure and Organization of the University Faculty Senate
(Legislative) Implementation: Upon approval by the Senate
On September 17, 2012, the Senate Self-Study Committee was charged by Chair Larry Backer to creatively think about mechanisms by which the Senate could improve its role in shared governance and enhance faculty engagement. Through open communication, the committee received innovative ideas, concepts, and recommendations from the University’s primary stakeholders.
On January 29, 2013, the committee submitted a Forensic Report to the University Faculty Senate on the following topics:-Senate Organization
-Senate Administrative Offices
-Membership and Engagement
On February 4, 2013, the committee disseminated an online survey to all members of the Senate.
The work of the Committee is broadly conceived and impacts a large number of areas of Senate governance and organization. The Self-Study committee, in consideration of the feedback from the forensic discussion, determined the need for reform in a variety of areas.
For these reasons, the committee is pleased to bring forth a set of eight recommendations, three of which are proposed amendments to the Bylaws and are being presented for discussion. As per Bylaws, Article X - Amendments, Section 1 "Amendments of the Bylaws may be adopted at any meeting of the Senate by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of those senators present, provided that the amendments shall have been presented in writing at a preceding regular meeting," Recommendations 1, 5, and 6 will be presented for approval by the University Faculty Senate at the meeting of April 23, 2013.
The RECOMMENDATIONS are grouped into four categories:-Meetings and Informational Reports (1, 2, and 3)
-Communication and Agility (4 and 5)
-The Role and Duties of Senators (6)
-Dissemination of Information from the University Faculty Senate (7 and 8)
MEETINGS and INFORMATIONAL REPORTS
The organization of senate meetings is one of the most difficult issues related to the Senate’s operations and it is evident that through better utilization of technology we may conduct Senate business more effectively. Although physically gathering to conduct all of the Senate’s work started as a necessity, the availability of online technology has changed that by providing virtual environments where we can efficiently distribute information and conduct dialogue beyond our physical meetings. One such use of this technology would be the distribution of informational reports. By repositioning the delivery and discussion of these reports to an online environment, we will free up valuable time needed to conduct other Senate business. Meetings where senators are physically present or participate through the Mediasite will be reserved specifically for action items that require debate and forensic discussion.
It is evident that the nature of the Senate’s business can be reorganized by effective utilization of technology. The basic principle of meetings is simple to state—all action items requiring debate and forensic discussions will be reserved for a meeting at which senators are physically present or are participating live through Mediasite. For matters we undertake in an online environment, such as informational reports, we will make provision for effective dialogue, communication, and availability of documents.
Currently, the standing committees deliver informational reports during the plenary meetings of the University Faculty Senate. These reports, mandated or otherwise, are submitted to the Senate Council, which then approves them for publication on the Senate agenda.
Under the proposed recommendations, we will streamline the system by repositioning the presentation and discussions of all informational reports, mandated or otherwise, from the plenary meetings to a new online format. The standing committees will be empowered to approve mandated informational reports for publication to the Senate Agenda. The Senate Council will be empowered with the discussion on whether an informational report, mandated or otherwise, is to be presented at the plenary meeting or is to be disseminated to the Senate and the University Community. Thus, we shift the focus of our meetings to the business of debating Legislative and Advisory and Consultative Reports; discussions of Forensic Business and more substantive issues.Recommendation 1. The Self-Study Committee recommends an amendment to the Bylaws, Article II - Senate Council, Section 1c to empower the Senate Council the decision on whether an informational report, mandated or otherwise, is to be placed on the agenda for presentation and discussion or is to be disseminated to the Senate and the University Community.
Recommendation 2. The Self-Study Committee recommends an amendment to the Standing Rules, Article II - Senate Committee Structure, Section 6 to empower the Standing Committees to approve mandated informational reports for publication to the Senate agenda. The Standing Committees will continue to send all Informational Reports to the Senate Council.
Recommendation 3. The Self-Study Committee recommends creation of a link on the Senate Website, next to the links to Agendas and Records, for the online delivery of all Informational reports. The Senate office will continue to archive these reports for future long-term reference.
COMMUNICATION and AGILITY
We make the following recommendations to foster open lines of communication between senators and the University Faculty Senate leadership, to improve communication between senators, and to improve communication between senators and their respective unit governance organizations.
Communication among all senators, beyond the Senate meeting itself, is rare. However, there are group engagements within some unit caucuses and the Commonwealth Campus caucus. The following proposed recommendations are being made to foster further transparency and to provide additional opportunities for discussion of substantive issues among senators that are less formal than floor debate using Robert's Rules of Order.Recommendation 4. The Self-Study Committee recommends establishment of a Senate Discussion Forum under which the anonymity of senators are preserved.
Recommendation 5. The Self-Study Committee recommends an amendment to the Bylaws Article I – Officers, Section 5 to expand the duties of the Secretary of the Senate to include, “The Secretary shall review and disseminate issues of serious concern, from the Senate Discussion Forum, to the Senate Council.”
ROLE and DUTIES of SENATORS
Although the duties of the Senate officers are defined by the Bylaws of the University Faculty Senate, the duties and expectations regarding the work of individual senators are not. To provide guidance for senators to reasonably engage in the work of the Senate, the Self-Study Committee recommends baseline duties and expectations for individual senators. This recommendation will enable the Senate to function at a higher level by providing appropriate guidance for expectations of senators.Recommendation 6. The Self-Study Committee recommends an amendment to the Bylaws, Article III – Election to the Senate, to revise Section 7 as set forth herein.
SECTION 7 Duties of Senators:a. Attendance at the Senate plenary meetings.
b. Absence at three or more plenary meetings in a single academic year, if repeated in the subsequent academic year, will result in removal of the senator from the University Faculty Senate and replacement of that senator by the unit’s alternate representative. This provision does not pertain to sabbatical, medical, other leaves of absence, or otherwise absence related to professional responsibilities.
c. Attendance at the assigned standing committee meetings.
d. Communication between the University Faculty Senate and the unit faculty governance organization. This communication pertains to the activities of the committee to which the senator is assigned.
DISSEMINATION of INFORMATION from the UNIVERSITY FACULTY SENATE
Currently, the Senate office sends the Senate Newsletter to the deans and chancellors for dissemination to their respective faculty. The following recommendation will foster direct communication with unit faculty leaders.Recommendation 7. The Self-Study Committee recommends that the Office of the University Faculty Senate will directly communicate, on all Senate matters, with faculty governance leaders to be followed by the same with deans or chancellors, when appropriate. The Senate office will send documents directly to the elected leaders of faculty governance units with copies to deans or Chancellors, when appropriate.
Currently, information from the University Faculty Senate is disseminated through one of four primary mechanisms: (a) by senators from each unit; (b) by the newsletter, (c) by the Penn State Newswire, and (d) by the Senate website. However, feedback from constituents indicates that not all units have a systematic process in place through which information may be effectively and consistently channeled back to faculty in their respective units. As a result, faculty members do not always receive timely communication from the University Faculty Senate and thus unaware of the issues, they may not have an opportunity to voice concerns, highlight issues, or give constructive feedback. Likewise, the newsletter is sent to unit administrator and it is variable whether the newsletter is sent out to all faculty in the unit. While the meeting announcements and links to documents are included in the Penn State Newswire, the Self-Study Committee notes that such information could be overlooked due to the broader scope.
As per consultation with the University’s primary stakeholders, we believe that an enhanced electronic newswire would (a) elevate the importance of the business that the University Faculty Senate is engaged for faculty, students, and staff and (b) would provide a direct communication between the University Faculty Senate, faculty, students, and staff. We acknowledge that the mechanism for smooth delivery and response to communication will need to be streamlined. However, we believe establishment of a Senate Newswire has the potential to significantly improve communications between the University Faculty Senate and faculty.
The Self-Study Committee acknowledges with gratitude the contribution of the Executive Director in developing a Senate Newsletter to date. It represents a significant step forward in our communications, advances transparency and seeks to make engagement more effective. The purpose of this recommendation, in part, is to ensure that this excellent practice is both improved and that it can become an official part of the Senate operations.Recommendation 8. The Self-Study Committee recommends establishment of a Senate Newswire which will replace the current Senate Newsletter.
SENATE SELF-STUDY COMMITTEE
Mohamad A. Ansari, Chair
Dawn G. Blasko
Blannie E. Bowen
Michael J. Chorney
R. Scott Kretchmar
John S. Nichols
Peggy N. Van Meter
Keith D. Shapiro
Beverly J. Vandiver
Susan C. Youtz, Resource Member