University Park

Faculty Senate endorses special committee report on University governance

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's University Faculty Senate on Tuesday, March 12 endorsed an informational report from the Special Committee on University Governance, approved recommendations to improve the Senate’s own governance and organization, and voted on policy revisions concerning student-athletes' time absent from class. Senators also received several additional informational reports, including nominating reports for 2013-14 Senate elections and an update on the activities of the Commission for Women.

In his opening remarks, Senate Chair Larry Backer, professor of law, said, “Transparency and communication, talking to and not at each other is the ultimate challenge for all institutions in this century, including Penn State,” he said. “But it is also the clearest path toward institutional success.” Chair Backer's remarks can be read at online.

The Special Committee on University Governance, chaired by Professor Emeritus of Communications John Nichols, presented its final informational report and recommendations for improving the governance of Penn State, revising the structure of the Board of Trustees, and furthering the academic mission of the University.

The chair of the Faculty Senate in late 2011 charged the Special Committee on University Governance to study the structure and practices of the Board of Trustees and to make constructive, forward-looking recommendations for improving governance and communication at the University. The committee consulted extensively with experts, reviewed the literature on best practices in higher education, benchmarked Penn State with other institutions, interviewed a wide variety of constituent groups and conferred with the Board leadership and other interested parties.

The report emphasized the importance the committee placed on increased participation of those with academic backgrounds and experience. “We feel that it’s important that people that understand the institution and the unique nature of higher education have at least a significant voice,” said Nichols.

The 34 recommendations include: adjusting the size and seat allocation of the Board to bring about a greater diversity of sectors and interests; increasing the number of board members with academic expertise, including adding two full-time faculty as Board members; formalizing the appointment of a Student Trustee and changing the way he/she is selected; establishing public qualifications for Board membership; changing the manner in which qualified candidates for the Board are selected, to be more transparent and participatory; providing orientation for new Board members to increase understanding of the complexities of the academic institution they govern, and orientation to members who are faculty on institutional governance and Board responsibilities; proposing that political officeholders not serve as Board members; encouraging greater inclusion of faculty in communications and internal and external public relations; and charging a standing joint committee with ongoing assessment of the governance of the University and facilitation of communication among institutional stakeholders. The full report is available at online.

During discussion, several faculty raised the question of whether the Senate as a body  might consider formally endorsing the report or taking further action. The Senate agreed to suspend the rules of order to consider the question, and voted to endorse the report.

In legislative business, the Senate Self-Study Committee, led by Mohamad Ansari, associate professor of mathematics at Penn State Berks and Senate parliamentarian, submitted eight recommendations to improve the structure and organization of the Faculty Senate. The report and recommendations are available at online.

“These recommendations are the result of a collaborative project, which came from a high level of engagement and constructive input from the University community at all levels,” said Ansari, “including the current and past Senate chairs, standing committee chairs, faculty and student Senators, faculty governance leaders, and of course, our administration colleagues.”

The Senate passed five recommendations – 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 – which amend some of the Standing Rules pertaining to meetings, communication and dissemination of information. Senators voted to empower standing committees to approve mandated informational reports for publication to the Senate agenda; add a website link for the online delivery of all informational reports; establish a Senate discussion forum; recommend that the Office of the University Faculty Senate directly communicate, where and when appropriate, with faculty governance leaders, deans and chancellors; and establish a Senate Newswire or equivalent to replace the current newsletter.

The remaining three recommendations – 1, 5 and 6 -- propose to amend the bylaws, and will be presented for discussion and vote at the April 23 senate meeting.

The Senate also voted to revise the policy concerning rules for accounting of class time missed by student-athletes for purposes of student athletic competition. John Boehmer, professor of medicine and surgery and chair of the Senate Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, and Chester Ray, professor of medicine and cellular and molecular physiology, presented the legislative report.

The amendments to Senate Policy 67-00, Section 5(2), Athletic Schedules Monitoring Student-Athlete Time Absent from Class, will allow better timing and opportunity for away travel, simplify the accounting to monitor compliance with the rules and bring the University into alignment with best practices at peer institutions. The policy will be reviewed after two years to assess its effectiveness.

Boehmer and Ray clarified to senators that this amendment will not in any way excuse student-athletes from completing all course requirements, yet will alleviate pressure and allow greater flexibility for the coaches, teams and student-athletes. The full revisions can be read at online.

The Senate received the nominating reports for 2013-14 for election to the Senate Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, Standing Joint Committee on Tenure and University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. The nominees are listed at

Senate Council presented the nominating report for chair-elect, secretary and Faculty Advisory Committee to the President. Martha W. Aynardi, senior lecturer in biology at Penn State Berks, and Jonna M. Kulikowich, professor of educational psychology, were nominated for chair-elect. Michel M. Haigh, associate professor of advertising/public relations, and Jeffrey A. Laman, professor of civil and environmental engineering, were nominated for secretary. John W. Bagby, professor of information sciences and technology, Thomas O. Beebee, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Comparative Literature and German, Chester A. Ray, professor of medicine and cellular and molecular physiology, and Steinn Sigurdsson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, were nominated for the Faculty Advisory Committee.

Other informational reports included the roster of senators by voting units for 2013-14, the activities of the Commission for Women, the Digital Measures Faculty Activity Reporting System, and annual reports on faculty tenure rates and faculty salaries.  A scheduled report on global programs at Penn State was postponed until the next senate meeting. Click on the links above to read the individual reports.

The full agenda for the meeting is available online at Meetings also are video archived via Mediasite, instructions for which are available at online. 

The Faculty Senate will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, in 112 Kern Graduate Building, University Park.

Last Updated March 17, 2014