Ann Taylor always wanted the experiences of being Penn State University Faculty Senate chair but knew her job duties as assistant dean for distance learning and director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute wouldn’t allow for the time commitment.
So the guru of nontraditional learning found a way to make it work.
Taylor begins her third year as Faculty Senate secretary — a feat accomplished by a small handful of others — and through that will achieve many of the same opportunities afforded to a serving chair. Each year, she’s toured a third of all colleges and campuses, which the chair does in the same timeframe.
These tours guide a report the Faculty Senate submits to the provost, which is also released to the public.
She’s also worked closely with three chairs, getting a behind-the-scenes look at the dedication and leadership it takes to keep Penn State in a constant state of improvement.
“The neatest thing for me is just getting to know the University at a much deeper level than I did even as a senator,” said Taylor, who has been serving that elected post since 2007. “The officers visit one-third of the campuses and colleges every year on what we call listening tours. We’re trying to find out what’s on their minds and concerns and interests, what they love to do.”
Taylor said it’s a chance to meet face-to-face with students, faculty, staff and administrators to learn about what they love about their Penn State locations and the challenges they face. And, as a senate officer, she can help put these suggestions into action.
Secretary is a misnomer. Taylor isn’t taking notes at Faculty Senate meetings. She’s supporting the mission of the chair and chair-elect, she serves on the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Committees and Rules, and she chairs the Unit Constitution Sub-committee of the Senate Council, which oversees the faculty governance documents for units like the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) that give their faculty their voice and legislative guidance. She is also responsible for drafting the report on the annual college and campus visits that she and her fellow Faculty Senate officers submit to the provost.
All that, and Taylor once thought she couldn’t be a member of the Faculty Senate. She thought the position was reserved for tenured faculty until her supervisor urged her to run. That’s when she began to learn about all the diverse interests in university governance that lead all distinctions of faculty and students.
When Taylor first joined, she said she became a needed voice for distance learners. Now, she’s happy to say, many leaders are thinking about how policies and procedures will impact all students, regardless of campus location.
“It’s been fascinating for me to find so many kindred spirits among my commonwealth campus colleagues, Taylor said. “At one time you really had to fight to be a voice for the needs of adult learners. I quickly saw that I was not alone. Now, because online education is so prevalent at Penn State, it’s something most of us think about.”
In EMS, brick-and-mortar undergraduate and graduate students number about 2,500. About 1,500 additional students study with the college completely online through Penn State World Campus, administered through the Dutton e-Education Institute.
Faculty Senate, comprised of 200 senators, has legislative authority over the university’s curriculum. It also makes decisions on everything including curriculum, student policies, admissions, retention and graduation requirements.
The group also has an advisory role to the university president for areas outside of their direct jurisdiction, such as faculty promotions, health care, benefits, research and facilities. One recent change, an additional promotion pathway for fixed-term faculty, was first advised by the Faculty Senate.
As secretary, Taylor is a member of President Eric Barron’s Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC), which meets about six times a year. FAC meetings are closed-door sessions where the Faculty Senate officers and three elected faculty members discuss with Barron and Provost Nicholas Jones matters of concern to the faculty related to the welfare and effectiveness of the University.
Taylor said she’s always learning, and her secretary seat has her continuing to learn more about everything Penn State. Although she took a traditional approach to her undergraduate education, her lifelong quest for knowledge is an area where she finds commonality with those she advocates for.
“When I was college-age student I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t 100 percent focused in my studies because I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to pursue. Our adult learners know what they want out of their education. They have goals. They are motivated. They bring experiences to their classroom that can help the faculty member learn, so it becomes more of a two-way street. These are stories I love to hear and I hear them often.”