Thursday, January 30, 2014

Penn State University Faculty Senate Chair Censured by the Faculty Senate

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have been writing about the consequences of the wellness wars at Penn State.  (Penn State's New "Wellness Program" in the News (UPDATED Through 8 August 2013)). These consequences have affected not merely relations between faculty and administration (e.g., The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function).  It has also brought attention to the issue of the duty of loyalty that a Senate Chair owes to the representative body of the Senate of which he is a part (e.g., The Wellness Wars and the Corruption of Shared Governance--The Fallout Continues). 

These consequences have not gone unnoticed by Faculty Senators.  At the University Faculty Senate meeting held December 10, 2013, two motions were presented for faculty consideration and vote at the January 2014 meeting. The first appears effectively as a censure motion; it condemns the Senate leadership for breach of their duty to the Senate and a failure of fidelity to the core responsibilities of their office. The second is an engagement motion.  It seeks to inject the Senate back into the process of deliberation of the scope and character of changes to the university's wellness programs in ways that the Task Force was meant to preclude.  These motions suggest both the extent of the damage done and the efforts undertaken to repair, to some extent, the weakening of shared governance.

At the January 28, 2014 Penn State University Faculty Senate meeting, both motions were passed.  It remains to be seen what, if any effect, that passage will have on the way in which the Senate leadership approaches its task and the university administration listens.  No official word has been distributed.

Both motions follow:

1.  The Censure Motion:
Be it resolved that it is the sense of the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University that:
1. The University Faculty Senate legitimately exercised its authority within the Penn State shared governance framework to require that the Senate leadership present to the University administrators its selections for the Wellness Task Force based on a plebiscite of the Senate.
2. Having failed to consult with the Senate, or Senate Council, before conceding to President Erickson’s rejection of selection by plebiscite, the Chair may have substantially weakened the integrity and legitimacy of the Senate as a democratic and representative institution.
3. That it is regrettable that the University’s administration as well as the Senate’s leadership ignored the expressed will of the Senate, concerning the selection of faculty delegates to the wellness task force. That action raises concerns about the effective commitment of Senate leaders and the university's senior administrators to transparency and respect for shared governance.

2.  The Engagement Motion
'Whereas the September 24, 2013 resolution of the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University called for a Wellness Task Force to be formed with 1/3 of its members elected; 
and whereas such task force has since been constituted through appointed members only;
and whereas general concern among the Penn State community, as well as concern expressed by Congresswoman Slaughter (NY) to the E.E.O.C., focuses on the collection of private data by wellness programs under threat of financial penalty;
Be it resolved that the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University hereby expresses to the Wellness Task Force and to the Administration that it considers unacceptable any coerced participation by any Penn State employee in any questionnaire or survey that calls for the disclosure of private medical or lifestyle information. '

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