SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMITTEES AND RULES
Recommendation for Standardized Support for Senate Officers
Implementation: UPON APPROVAL BY THE PRESIDENT
As Penn State grows larger and ever more complex, it is appropriate to periodically reexamine the scope of the responsibilities delegated to faculty and administrators who support the University’s overall mission.
Attending to the ever-growing list of responsibilities of the Senate is a significant challenge for its officers. Even with a highly skilled staff, officers are responsible to identify the Senate’s additional leadership positions, staff and charge 15 standing committees, staff and charge special committees, meet regularly with the Senate Council, serve on the Senate’s Committee on Committees and Rules, serve on the Faculty Advisory Committee to the President, and conduct annual half day visits with one-third of the University’s campuses and one-third of the University’s colleges and academic units. In addition, individual officers represent the Senate on a number of University committees, including the Academic Leadership Council, the Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities, the Executive Board of the Alumni Association, the Martin Luther King Commemoration Planning Committee, the Administrative Council on Undergraduate Education (ACUE), and the Committee on Undergraduate Enrollment (CUE)
Most recently, the Senate Officers have been charged with serving as non-voting members on the committees of the Penn State Board of Trustees. They continue to attend the Board’s plenary sessions and functions. These welcome reforms ensure that the Senate officers are not passive participants in Board operations. The Board’s committees regularly invite Senate Officers to give presentations or field questions on issues that fall within the Senate’s jurisdiction. While the officers’ incorporation into the Board of Trustees is a welcome development, demonstrating better cooperation in University governance, this responsibility requires a significant additional service commitment on the part of Senate officers.
Recognizing the need to support the programs that contribute to the Senate’s operations, the Office of the Provost provides the Chair’s home unit with financial support equal to 50% of her base salary with the intent of facilitating a partial release of that individual’s duties during their year of service as a Senate officer. However, the level of support provided to Senate Chairs has been negotiated on an ad-hoc basis, making such support inconsistent and potentially inequitable. For example, many Chairs who are appointed to a University Park unit are released from all teaching duties in the year they serve as Senate Chair. By contrast, some Chairs from the Commonwealth Campus locations have been expected to maintain a partial teaching load while commuting back and forth to State College. These variations in unit support raise questions about the logic and equity of the current system.
Despite also having significant responsibilities to provide support to the University through their Senate work, neither the Chair-Elect, Immediate Past Chair, nor the Secretary are guaranteed any support for their service.
With no official policy mandating support for Senate officers, faculty are required to negotiate with local administrators over release time. This ad-hoc release policy potentially impedes Senate operations in two ways.
- Few local administrators understand the considerable obligations of serving as a Senate officer. Even administrators who wish to provide adequate support for Senate Officers probably underestimate the time needed to allow faculty to properly discharge their duties. Accordingly, when administrators, in good faith, misjudge the time required to complete the assigned duties, officers are forced to either neglect their other responsibilities (i.e., teaching or research), or struggle to meet their basic obligations to the University Faculty Senate.
- In the absence of a set policy on release time, local administrators are free to vary their level of release time depending on whether they wish to encourage (or discourage) faculty from serving in Senate leadership positions. This potentially compromises the independence of the Senate by giving local administrators undue influence over who will stand for election.
Concerns about providing adequate support for Senate Officers is not new. On May 7, 1974, the University Faculty Senate issued an advisory-consultative report with a series of recommendations meant to strengthen shared governance. One of the recommendations (#16) states:
“In order to attract the ablest possible person and to enable that person to discharge his duties effectively, the Committee recommends that the Chairman be relieved of most of his non-Senate duties during the year of his service as Chairman. His involvement in non-Senate activities during that year should be primarily on a voluntary basis.”
It is unclear if the administration made a change in policy as a result of the request. Presently, there is no set policy mandating that Chair or other officers be released from “most,” let along all, of her duties.
In the 43 years since this report was issued by the Senate, the work of the officers has become far more complex. In 1974, student enrollment was 57,764. In 2016 it was 99,133. The Senate itself has expanded from ten committees to 15 committees. Additionally, the Senate now conducts yearly visits with all of the campuses and colleges throughout University Park and the Commonwealth. Given their current duties as outlined above, the work of the Senate Officers is a very time consuming responsibility, even for faculty who reside in State College.
To ensure Senate officers are provided the needed support to carry out their duties, to provide a consistent and equitable level of support across all academic units, and to promote transparency for Senators considering running for an officer’s post, the administration should take steps to establish a uniform policy of support based on the following recommendations.
- Consistent with the scope of their responsibilities as Senate officers, the administration will establish a uniform policy that provides faculty with release from mandatory unit obligations, including teaching, research, and departmental service.
- Expectations for Senate Officers will be defined as follows:
|Office||Teaching||Research||Non University Senate Service|
|Chair||100% Release||100% Release||100% Release|
|Chair-Elect/Vice Chair||50% Release||50% Release||50% Release|
|Past Chair & Secretary||25% Release||25% Release||25% Release|
- Senate Officers from the Commonwealth Campuses will receive additional release time commensurate with the time required to travel to and from University Park. The additional release time will apply to work related responsibilities in teaching, research and non-University Senate service. A memorandum of understanding will be developed between the Senate Officer and the relevant dean/chancellor, in consultation with the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs in consultation with the academic dean and the faculty member. An ongoing record of travel-related releases, and procedures for estimating travel-related release time will be made available to faculty considering running for a Senate officer position.
- In the case where the immediate release of a portion of overall duties would be too disruptive to departmental operations, the Senate officer would have the option of deferring a portion of the release for no more than a total of three years in consultation with the academic unit head and the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs.
- The Office of the Provost should continue to support a one semester administrative leave when an officer has completed a term as a Past Chair.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMITTEES AND RULES
- Jonathan Abel
- Michael Bérubé
- Victor Brunsden
- Mark Casteel
- Ann Clements
- Beth King
- Richard Robinett
- Keith Shapiro
- James Strauss
- Jane Sutton
- Ann Taylor
- Kent Vrana, Chair
- Nicole Webster, Vice Chair
- Matthew Woessner