Faculty Senate approves measures to support academically struggling students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the final University Faculty Senate meeting of the 2017-18 academic year on April 24, outgoing chair Matthew Woessner opened the proceedings with a contemplative meditation on the importance of democracy, democratic participation and shared governance.

“At the beginning of my [political science] course, I dramatically remind students that, in time, all republics eventually die — not to take a fatalistic view of history, but to remind them of the vital role they each play in governance,” Woessner said, going on to praise the membership for their dedication and service in the senate. “Faculty Senate plays a positive role in this University because of your sacrifices, time, energy and passion. To all of you, thank you.”

Wossener said that, as the senate nears its centennial anniversary, the coming generations of the senate must work to maintain its democratic traditions. The remarks were met by enthusiastic applause.

Supporting Students

With the meeting called to order, the senate discussed a legislative report on proposed changes to University policies on students’ academic recovery. Student aid and undergraduate education committee chairs Mary Beth Williams and Elizabeth Seymour presented their committees’ proposals to allow students to use the most recent grade in repeated courses when calculating their GPA, establish early intervention procedures and academic recovery plans that are individualized to struggling students, and enhance and expedite the Faculty Senate student petition process.

Jake Springer, a student representative to the senate who helped develop the report, said these recommendations mirror the concerns and requests he’s heard from fellow students while serving in student government.

After some debate, including a defeated motion to send the report back to committee for further review and stakeholder input, the Faculty Senate ultimately voted to accept the report and recommendations.

Updates and reports

The senate heard remarks and updates from Mark Dambly and Matthew Schuyler, Penn State Board of Trustees chair and vice-chair, respectively. Dambly praised the academic achievement and intellectual prowess of the University students, and said hearing from students and student leaders more often and more directly was a priority for the board. He also affirmed the board’s commitment to President Eric Barron’s strategic priorities, including access and affordability and helping career opportunities and innovation flourish at the University.

“One only needs to look at Invent Penn State to see entrepreneurship and community engagement in action,” Dambly said.

Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones shared updates with the senate on a number of dean and campus chancellor searches currently underway, thanked the senate for its contributions to the ongoing discussions surrounding fixed-term faculty appointment policies, and updated the senate on the ongoing strategic plan implementation.

The senate also heard a number of legislative, advisory and informational reports, including:

  • Proposed changes to senate bylaws to limit the Faculty Senate’s senior leadership to two terms, modify the parameters of the vice-chair position, and reduce the term of the senate secretary to two years, which the senate rejected;
  • A proposed change to the senate constitution to allow greater graduate student representation, which the senate voted to approve;
  • A proposal to implement a cap of $200 per semester on late fees assessed by the bursar’s office on undergraduate student accounts, which the senate voted to approve;
  • An update on the success of Penn State’s World Campus programs, which have grown exponentially since their establishment;
  • A report on “The Red Folder Initiative,” which equips faculty with the tools to better identify and support distressed students.

Passing the gavel

As the meeting drew to a close, Woessner passed on the gavel to his successor, Professor of English Michael Bérubé. They exchanged gifts — including a personalized Faculty Senate mug that drew laughter from senators — and Bérubé gave his first official address as senate chair.

“Thank you all for your time, your service, and your dedication to shared governance at Penn State,” Bérubé said. “I am honored to be your chair, and will do everything I can to live up to the honor.”

Professor of English Michael Bérubé officially began his tenure as chair of the University Faculty Senate at the final meeting of the 2017-18 academic year. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated April 26, 2018