Faculty Senate endorses open access research policy at final meeting of semester

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Professor of English Michael Bérubé opened his final meeting as chair of the Penn State Faculty Senate on April 23 with a reflection on the importance of shared governance.

He noted that shared governance isn’t merely about the relationship between the Senate and central administration, but between the Senate and every part of university life. “I don’t think any of you would believe me if I tried to describe the work of shared governance as fun,” Bérubé said. “But I think it is actually something better. It is illuminating. It is edifying. And it helps make Penn State a better place to work for all of us.”

“Thank you all for your service to the University,” Bérubé concluded. “And thank you for the honor of serving as your chair.”

Open access research

The Senate took a major step to affirm the University’s commitment to making Penn State research widely available to the public by endorsing a proposed policy supporting research submissions to open access journals.

Unlike the standard model of academic publishing, open access journals publish research that is freely accessible without a paywall and do not require subscription fees from universities in order for their researchers to submit articles for publication. The new policy encourages Penn State researchers to submit to open access publications, but maintains that researchers have the freedom to submit their work to publications of their choice, including both open access journals and journals with a more traditional fee-based publishing model.

Promoting open access research publishing has been a topic of discussion since 2015, when the Senate passed a resolution in support of open access publishing. The newly passed policy, which must be implemented by the University president, builds on debate from a previous meeting of the Faculty Senate about how to craft an open access policy that best supports and empowers researchers.

Penn State Altoona Associate Professor of Sociology Nicholas Rowland, who succeeded Bérubé as chair of the Senate at the end of the April 23 meeting, called the new open access policy “a landmark, the effects of which we will feel for years to come.”

Gender in tenure and promotion

The Senate also voted to approve a report from its Special Committee on Tenure and Equity, which was formed in 2017 in response to the Senate’s annual reports on promotion and tenure that showed that female professors received tenure or promotions at lower rates than their male counterparts.

Formed to investigate the causes of this discrepancy and make recommendations to improve gender equity in promotion and tenure, the special committee regularly met between 2017 and 2019 to gather and analyze related data. The committee’s primary finding was that more data are needed to fully understand the reasons behind this gender discrepancy, including data that break down employment and promotion trends by demographic areas such as ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.

The committee also made several recommendations based on national trends, including reviewing service and teaching requirements for gender or racial imbalances, reviewing faculty family and medical leave policies, developing a method of assessing efforts to create a welcoming environment for all faculty, and creating mentoring opportunities for new faculty.

Academic ranks and terminal degrees

The Senate continued its ongoing work surrounding definition of academic ranks with a discussion about the ability of faculty members without a terminal degree, such as a doctorate, to review faculty members with a terminal degree during the promotion process.

Senators debated the language of a University policy that allows faculty without a terminal degree to review faculty who hold a terminal degree, providing that the non-terminal-degree faculty member is reviewing a terminal-degree faculty member of a lower professorial rank.

The Senate was largely in agreement that disallowing this kind of review would both make it more difficult to convene review committees, and would amount to discrimination against faculty who do not hold terminal degrees. One senator noted that, regardless of whether a faculty member holds a master’s or a doctoral degree, they are held to the same standards and expectations.

The Senate passed a proposed update to the language of the policy that preserves and strengthens the ability of non-terminal-degree faculty to serve on these promotional committees.

The passing of the gavel

After a slate of other business — including several minor updates to Senate rules and bylaws, and the Faculty Senate ombudsperson’s annual report — the Senate observed the passing of the gavel from Bérubé to the new Penn State Faculty Senate chair, Nicholas Rowland, associate professor of sociology and environmental studies.

Rowland discussed his vision to align the Senate’s work in the upcoming year with Penn State President Eric Barron’s “One Penn State 2025” strategic initiative, which aims to “provide a seamless student experience, achieve curricular coherence, design relevant and responsive programs, engage learners throughout their lifetimes, and achieve the highest level of efficiency of University resources.”

“Next year, as we embrace the bold vision set out in One Penn State 2025, we will embrace it as ‘One University Faculty Senate,’” Rowland said, to an approving round of applause.

Last Updated April 26, 2019