Senate hears update on presidential search and self-study committee

Penn State Board of Trustees chair provides update on Next Gen Penn State process

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At its Oct. 19 meeting, the Penn State Faculty Senate heard an update from members of the University’s Board of the Trustees about the presidential search process and began a faculty listening process as part of work of the senate’s self-study committee.

Penn State presidential search

Matt Schuyler, chair of the Board of Trustees, updated the senate on the status of the presidential search. Led by the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee (PSRC), with additional guidance from the Next Gen Penn State Advisory Group, the search process has included extensive input from faculty members, trustees, administrators, students, alumni and other stakeholders — including 36 listening sessions held with more than 275 members of the Penn State community, and more than 14,000 responses to the community survey launched last April.

This input informed the desired core strengths and attributes for Penn State’s next president, including academic excellence in research and teaching; a commitment to Penn State’s land-grant mission and the importance of access and affordability; experience serving as a visionary, dynamic leader who can inspire and run a large, complex institution; demonstrated success advancing diversity, equity and inclusion; and the strategic mindset and business acumen to help Penn State continue to grow and thrive while meeting its educational, land-grant and research missions.

The PSRC took a multi-pronged approach to guide its candidate search strategy, considering academic leaders -- including sitting presidents and provosts at public and land-grant institutions; high-performing deans for major programs at large universities; academic medical and health system leaders and Penn State alumni in prominent academic leadership roles. The committee also considered relevant business leaders including executives who are Penn State alumni, sit on the boards of large universities or lead companies with headquarters in Pennsylvania.

With over 400 individuals initially identified as potential presidential prospects, Schuyler said this pool was narrowed to 50 prospects evaluated by the PRSC. Including a wide diversity of potential prospects was a key focus of the PRSC, with a deliberate effort to identify potential candidates from an array of racial and ethnic identities, genders and cultural backgrounds. Of the 50 candidates identified, 11 were selected for first-round interviews – a candidate pool that includes 18% female candidates and 38% candidates who are Black, Indigenous or people of color. Senators raised concerns about these percentages, questioning why the pool didn’t have greater gender balance; Schuyler thanked the senators for their concern, offered additional perspective on the candidate identification process and affirmed that identifying diverse, high-performing candidates across genders and backgrounds was an extensive and deliberate effort of the PSRC.

Schuyler said round-one interviews begun in September are ongoing, with a focus on questions about each candidate’s experiences in key strategic areas. Proposed next steps include conducting second-round interviews focused on the future of higher education and questions about how each individual candidate would address Penn State’s key opportunities and challenges. Ultimately, the PSRC plans to use this process to identify a finalist, at which point the candidate would have an opportunity to meet with a small group of faculty followed by a meeting with the full Board of Trustees.

At the request of Senate Chair Bonj Szczygiel, Schuyler also addressed the Faculty Senate on Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses, which he said “have long advanced Penn State’s land-grant mission, having served hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who would not have had the opportunity to pursue college, if not for the geographic breadth offered by our campuses.”

Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses serve a diverse student body of Pennsylvania residents from communities across the state, making the University’s geographically distributed structure an integral part of both Penn State’s land-grant mission and the University’s commitment to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. While Schuyler noted that universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have experienced enrollment challenges, he said Penn State is well-positioned to continue benefitting Pennsylvania and affirmed that the Commonwealth Campuses will continue to be a vital part of Penn State’s educational and land-grant missions moving forward.

Updates from University leadership

Penn State President Eric Barron discussed the creation of a new Center for Racial Justice, which is one of the recommendations of the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety. Housed within the Social Science Research Institute, the center will focus on racial justice research and position Penn State as national leader on this critical issue, Barron said.

Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost, provided an update about the University’s ongoing and multipronged COVID-19 response. He noted the University Park campus is now subject to a vaccine mandate stemming from an executive order issued by U.S. President Joe Biden, and that this vaccine requirement has been extended to six additional Commonwealth Campuses.

Jones noted data on Penn State’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that University Park currently has a positivity rate of 0.2%, with a high rate of vaccination across students, staff and administrators. Jones said the COVID-19 Operations Control Center team is working closely with the leadership of each Commonwealth Campus to continue supporting the unique health and safety needs of each campus community.

The University is continuing to award student relief funding as part of $290 million allocated to Penn State from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which Jones said has helped offset the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although he said current circumstances do pose budgetary challenges, Jones said Penn State is well-positioned. He also shared that the University’s new five-year budgeting approach has helped units conduct strategic, long-term resource plan.

Additional Senate business

The Faculty Senate heard an update from the Senate’s Self-Study Committee, which was charged by previous Senate Chair Beth Seymour to investigate two overarching questions: What are the main missions of the senate, and how well do the senate’s structures and procedures fulfill those missions?

Senator Julio Palma, a member of the Self-Study Committee, said the committee has undertaken listening sessions with stakeholders including past chairs of the senate, University administrators and Commonwealth Campus leadership. Through these conversations, the committee has identified governance, efficiency and transparency as important challenges for the senate, Palma said. Additionally, the themes of improving communication, enhancing collaboration and increasing clarity emerged as key areas of consideration.

Palma invited all senators to reflect on the body as the “connective tissue” of the University that brings together representatives from all departments, units, colleges and campuses, and to think about that role as the Faculty Senate explores the questions raised by the self-study committee.

Michelle Duffy, a fellow senator and member of the Self-Study Committee, shared that the committee will hold a listening session at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 2. She invited all senators to attend and take part in a discussion around the nature, role and processes of the senate, with the goal of exploring how the body’s procedures could be improved and potential roles for the Senate.

The group also discussed an advisory report recommending revisions to University policy AC80, which details faculty responsibilities related to business activities and private consulting outside the University. Senators raised questions about the recommended language concerning what activities require disclosure, and voted to refer the report back to the senate’s Committee on Faculty Affairs and Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity to obtain greater clarity. The report will return to the floor for a vote at a future Faculty Senate meeting.

Additional business undertaken by the senate included:

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the senate will be held in a remote format at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 30.


Last Updated November 01, 2021