Faculty Senate hears from trustees, considers several reports

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The University Faculty Senate considered a number of issues at its final meeting of the calendar year Tuesday (Dec. 6), including hearing from Board of Trustees leadership, discussing changes with LionPATH and receiving a report on the new Employee Health and Wellness Center.

In keeping with Chair James Strauss’ ongoing effort to spotlight both Penn State students and diversity, the student choral group Essence of Joy opened the meeting. Conductor Tony Leach, professor of music and music education, noted that the group, which sings both secular and sacred music, is in its 26th year.

Along with hearing from President Eric Barron, Faculty Senate heard from Board of Trustees Chair Ira Lubert and Vice Chair Mark Dambly who spoke about the efforts to have greater engagement with the University community.

“We recognize the need to listen and learn from the University’s core constituents,” Lubert said.

He said integrating faculty and student expertise into the committees’ governance function and allowing time to feature student and faculty speakers at Board of Trustees meetings are a few of the changes that have been made. Overall, access and affordability (link to story) remain the No. 1 priority and, Lubert said, there is also a focus on Invent Penn State, the initiative to promote entrepreneurship and economic development, and working to strengthen relationships with Pennsylvania legislators is also an area of focus.

Dambly said that one change expected to come out of the governance committee in February is authorization for the chair to add Faculty Senate membership on all of the trustees’ committees.

That was in keeping with recommendations from a report by the Senate’s Special Committee on University Governance. The report, which the Senate endorsed later in the meeting, calls for increasing academic expertise and diversity in the Board of Trustees’ membership. 

Dambly said he and Lubert also met with student leadership, discussed inclusion and diversity and watched the video that is part of “All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion,” The video features stories from students about their personal experiences, and Dambly said an idea from a student leader was for faculty to show the video at the beginning of the semester to their classes. Dambly asked faculty to consider that approach, saying it would be well received by students.

Also Tuesday, the Faculty Senate discussed the transition to a new student information system, LionPATH. The transition has presented numerous challenges, and Provost Nick Jones acknowledged and apologized for those issues. He noted that the core business functions of the University have been successfully transitioned from the legacy ISIS/eLion student information system to LionPATH, including admissions, student registration, class scheduling, transcripts, advising, tuition billing and financial aid processing.

Jones noted that a central support unit has been created and will work on system enhancements and optimization, and that an update to the student interface is scheduled to be implemented in spring 2017. Student input is being collected and will be incorporated into that transition.

“I really do believe we have turned a corner,” Jones said. “Many of the challenges that we’ve had — the expected ones and the unexpected ones — the issues have been resolved, largely resolved. There are still others out there that we know are frustrating people, but we’re making extraordinary progress, and I think a year from now, as we’ve gone through another full cycle of this, this is all going to be in the past.”

The Senate approved a resolution asking for an assessment to explore “how software upgrades, newer programs, alternative software or other methods might more effectively accommodate the needs of the Penn State student information system.”

The Faculty Senate also:

  • Received a report on embedded study abroad programs.
  • Received a report on the Millennium Scholars Program.
  • Discussed the University policy AD88, Code of Responsibility. In particular, the Senate discussed, “How are faculty to understand, and act on, tensions between the ideals of “academic freedom and freedom of expression” and the need to “maintain a respectful workplace and educational environment.”
  • Approved changes to clarify the policy on grade reporting deadlines
  • Received several reports on faculty benefits, including one from Paula Milone-Nuzzo, dean of the College of Nursing, on the new Penn State Employee Health and Wellness Center that is slated to open Jan. 3, 2017, in the Nursing Sciences Building on the University Park campus.Milone-Nuzzo said it is part of the University’s focus on building a culture of health among faculty and staff. Employees can go for episodic care for conditions such as a rash or an ear ache. It will be open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with services provided on a walk-in basis.

The University Faculty Senate meets in the Kern Graduate Building. Credit: L. Reidar Jensen / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated December 08, 2016