Faculty Senate discusses strategic plan, harassment, political activities

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Strategic Plan was one of the main items of consideration at the Oct. 23 meeting of the University Faculty Senate, where Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones briefed the senate on the plan’s ongoing implementation.

Jones explained that the University’s Strategic Plan is based on the individual strategic plans of 48 academic and administrative units across Penn State, integrating unit-leveling planning with University-level planning, and lays out key goals and priorities for 2016 through 2020. The thematic priorities that plan focuses on are “Advancing the Arts and Humanities,” “Driving Digital Innovation,” “Enhancing Health,” “Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources,” and “Transforming Education” — each of which is designed to both position Penn State as a global leader on key issues and advance the University’s land-grant mission.

“For the first time in Penn State’s history, we connected our fundraising campaign directly to the goals of our University-wide strategic plan,” Jones said. “As of Sept. 30, the ‘Greater Penn State’ campaign has raised more than $819 million, putting us more than halfway toward our cumulative goal of $1.6 billion.”

Jones celebrated the new Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse as one of the signature initiatives to come out of the Strategic Plan, calling it a real-world example of the “Enhancing Health” pillar that will apply Penn State expertise to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians through data-driven policies aimed at preventing and treating addiction. He also touched on several other initiatives, such as “One Penn State 2025,” that will put the plan’s principles into action with tangible results.

The plan also includes a formal request-for-proposal process to solicit new and exciting ideas from faculty members to drive innovation at the University, Jones said. So far, 22 projects have been funded, including a public humanities initiative, a program focused on “experiential digital global engagement” at the Commonwealth Campuses, and the creation of an integrated data systems solution for health equity.

Jones praised the dedication and commitment of key players across the University in helping to implement the plan, including several members of the faculty senate.

“Moving forward, we are focused on realizing the desired impacts of our strategic planning efforts, while still allowing time to assess unit-level and University-level progress,” Jones said. “We have built a lot of momentum, creating vital space for a guided, smart evolution of the strategic planning process at Penn State.”

Denouncing harassment

Jones also responded to concerns raised at the September meeting of the faculty senate regarding a Perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that cited data on sexual and gender-based harassment at the Penn State College of Medicine.

Jones affirmed Penn State’s unequivocal opposition to all forms of harassment, including and especially sexual or gender-based harassment.

He also noted that the data cited in the NEJM Perspective was referenced to a recently released National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) report on Sexual Harassment of Women, but originated from Penn State’s 2015 Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey, which Penn State undertook and made publicly available as part of its ongoing commitment to support survivors of assault or harassment and prevent sexual misconduct.

Since then, Jones said, the College of Medicine has undertaken several initiatives to combat harassment and support survivors, including hiring a dedicated Title IX coordinator; increasing training for all faculty, staff and students; establishing the Office for a Respectful Learning Environment; creating a clear process for mistreatment intervention; and establishing an Office for Student Mental Health and Counseling.

Jones said there is no place for harassment at Penn State, noting that “this is a concern we take very seriously at both the institutional level and the individual unit level.”

Other business

The Faculty Senate also:

  • voted to approve changes to the structure of the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics;
  • approved a change to the bylaws to strengthen the role of faculty in shared governance; and
  • heard a report on the Pattee Library renovations and courtyard infill project.

The senate also discussed examples of permissible and prohibited political activities under University policy, which previously contained ambiguous language the senate recently worked to improve. Penn State Assistant General Counsel Zahraa Zalzala laid out several examples of both acceptable and unacceptable political campaign activities, noting that the guiding principle is not using University time or resources to endorse or support any candidate for elected office, in accordance with federal law.

Several faculty members expressed their belief that the “black and white” areas of the policy were fairly clear but were concerned about the “gray areas” that were less clear. One senator asked that if a faculty member were to accidentally stumble into a gray area while acting in good faith in accordance with the policy, if the University would “have our back.”

Jones addressed this question with a resolute “yes,” prompting a round of appreciative applause.

Last Updated November 01, 2018