Faculty Senate examines Penn State general education at March meeting

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's University Faculty Senate on Tuesday, March 18, discussed general education and baccalaureate program assessment, heard a report on disability services and approved motions concerning faculty appointment types and the Penn State Lunar Lion project. Senators also received nominating reports for 2014-15 Senate elections.

The meeting opened with remarks from President Rodney Erickson, including updates to Senators on his and his AAU colleagues' efforts to increase federal funding for research, and his appearances before the state House and Senate appropriations committees regarding Commonwealth funding of the University. Erickson also announced his responses to the task force on child care, which included placing oversight of operations with the Office of Human Resources and providing additional funds for researchers and lower-income families.

Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas P. Jones provided a summary of the University’s 2013-14 operating budget and outlined the 2014-15 budget plan and appropriation request.

Penn State has requested a state appropriation of $299.7 million for 2014-15, a 5.2 percent increase from this year's $284.9 million. Gov. Tom Corbett in February proposed near-level funding for the University. Among the top priorities for the new fiscal year, Jones noted, are keeping base tuition increases low, maintaining academic quality and faculty and staff salary competitiveness, and funding other strategic initiatives. Considerations include increases related to employee benefits, facilities and utilities, and need-based student aid.

The Senate conducted two forensic sessions during the meeting. The first was to discuss a progress report of the task force charged with examining general education at Penn State, led by Senator Mary Beth Williams, professor of chemistry and associate dean for undergraduate education, and task force co-chair.

Formed in spring 2013, the 90-member task force, which includes representation from every college and campus, is developing a plan and process to examine and revise Penn State's general education requirements, in consultation with faculty, staff, and student stakeholders. Williams reported that the group has identified a model that "expresses our best understanding of what a Penn State education includes at its heart," and is requesting input and assistance in conducting a University-wide discussion about general education. The forensic report is available for comment at gened.psu.edu, an interactive website created by the task force to help facilitate discussion.

In a forensic session, senators discussed the state of assessment processes for baccalaureate programs and asked if changes should be made in terms of transparency and accountability.

Senator Nicholas J. Rowland, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona and chair of the Committee on Intra-University Relations, said that because mass assessment of programs is relatively new at the University, there are no official policies regarding requirements for transparency, nor are there consequences in place for programs that do not conduct, or improve, individual assessment plans. The results of the senators' discussion will be shared with faculty who are charged with developing program assessment reviews.

Senators passed several motions during the meeting, including an endorsement of the advisory/consultative report that examined a trend toward hiring an increased proportion of fixed-term faculty versus standing faculty at Penn State and the impacts, to the University and to its faculty, of a two-tiered faculty system. The report made several recommendations for the Senate and administration to jointly consider this trend and to form an effective plan for balancing types of faculty appointment for the University.

The Senate received the nominating reports for 2014-15 for election to the Senate Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, Standing Joint Committee on Tenure, and University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. The nominees are listed at http://www.senate.psu.edu/agenda/2013-2014/mar2014/appg.htm on the Senate website, with the addition of Chad Dechow, associate professor of dairy cattle genetics, who was nominated for faculty rights and responsibilities from the floor.

Senate Council also presented the nominees for chair-elect, secretary, and Faculty Advisory Committee to the President. Mohamad A. Ansari, associate professor of math at Penn State Berks, and Michael F. Bérubé, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature, were nominated for chair-elect. James A. Strauss, senior lecturer in the Eberly College of Science, and Matthew C. Woessner, associate professor of political science and public policy at Penn State Harrisburg, were nominated for secretary. Roger A. Egolf, associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Lehigh Valley, and Ellen A. Knodt, professor of English at Penn State Abington, were nominated for the Faculty Advisory Committee.

An informational report on Penn State’s Office for Disability Services was presented by Director Keith Jervis, who said that the number of students served by the unit at all of Penn State's campuses has steadily risen since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments of 2008, a broader application of protection and coverage under the ADA. Currently, 3057 students are registered with the Office for Disability Services across all Penn State locations, with 1,416 at University Park.

Other informational reports listed on the agenda only and posted on the Senate website included a progress report from the Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force, the roster of senators by voting units for 2014-15, and annual reports on space allocation and faculty salaries.

Faculty Senate Chair Brent Yarnal, the E. Willard and Ruby S. Miller Professor of Geography, noted that the Senate Council is still accepting nominations for University Faculty Ombudsperson. Those interested should contact the Senate office at senate@psu.edu.

The full agenda for the meeting is available on the senate’s website. Meetings also are video archived via Mediasite.

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

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