SENATE COMMITTEE ON FACULTY BENEFITS
Recreational Facilities Memberships for Faculty at University Park
Implementation: Upon Approval By the President
Introduction and Rationale
In response to widely held faculty concerns about changes to the fee structure and availability of recreational facilities for faculty at University Park (UP), Senator Murry Nelson made a statement to the University Faculty Senate on September 12, 2017. He outlined major areas of discontent among faculty including decisions made about faculty and community use of facilities at Recreation Hall (“Rec Hall”) and the lack of faculty involvement in the decision-making process regarding the use of recreational facilities in general. In response, the Committee on Faculty Benefits agreed to respond to the issue, exploring the problem and presenting recommendations, which is the basis for this report.
The Faculty Benefits committee held two informational sessions with Laura Hall, Director of Recreation at UP on September 12th and October 17th, 2017. The first meeting also included two student representatives from UPUA and Diane Andrews (Associate VP for Student Affairs). The purpose of these meetings was to understand why there was lack of consultation with the Senate, and to better understand the motivation for the proposed changes. From these discussions and follow-up correspondence, Faculty Benefits was told:
- The cost of managing and operating the recreational facilities at UP is quite dynamic, varying with the type and size of facility and equipment and activities housed in each building.
- Campus Recreation is responsible for following very clear national standards and best practices related to recreational facility operations, supervision, and risk management. Best practices are set by the National Intermural Sports Association (NIRSA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health and Fitness Facilities Standards and Guidelines. These standards govern factors such as risk management and liability, safety, and controlled access. Costs of meeting these best practices fluctuate based on the square footage of recreational space being utilized, the sight lines supervisors must maintain during all activities, and the floorplans of the facility. Campus Recreation is charged with monitoring expenditures while being mindful of its mission to ensure safe and accessible facilities. This is especially true for recreational facilities funded through student fees.
- In the case of Recreation Hall, located on the west end of the UP campus, meeting best practices and standards has been a particularly large challenge and has necessitated an abnormally large supervisory staff. These challenges include the layout of the facility, including multiple, segmented locker room spaces, the large number of supervisory sightlines for activity spaces, and the immense number of access doors to the facility.
- Accurate and reliable count data on faculty usage is difficult. A university-wide turnstile project was completed in March 2017, although this data also includes people who access Rec Hall for reasons other than recreational purposes (e.g. Intercollegiate Athletics student-athletes, coaches, staff, and volunteers, Kinesiology class students, and Kinesiology faculty and staff who have requested access to the controlled zones as a means to create a shorter walking distance between their cars and offices). As a result, it is difficult to extract and count individuals who are entering the building for recreational activities. According to the most recent data from Campus Recreation, the card swipe information from the turnstiles has been remarkably consistent, showing less than 76 faculty per weekday at Rec Hall and 136 and 112 per weekday at the IM and White Buildings, respectively.
- The recently formed Student Fee Board, led by UPUA, recommended the implementation of a new student fee structure in which each student pays a set recreation fee rather than individual students choosing to, or not to, purchase a gym membership. The new fee (now called the Student Initiated Fee) combines the previous Student Activities Fee and Student Facilities Fee. The intention of this change was to allow for all students to have access to recreational facilities, provide additional space and equipment, and increase capacity. Of the total student fees in 2017/18 ($258), $61.60 is contributed to Recreation. See the UP 2017-18 Fee Breakdown, accessed January 26, 2018).
- In the past, approximately 700 faculty purchased a membership for some recreational activities at the UP campus, but not all faculty who used the recreational facilities did so. Whether or not faculty paid a fee was determined by their recreational choice. For example, if a faculty member wanted to swim, they had to pay for a membership, but if they preferred to run on the indoor track at Rec Hall, they did not pay a fee. This raised the concern on the part of Campus Recreation that some faculty were paying for facility use, while others were not. Recognizing this potential inequity, the Campus Recreation administrative staff began exploring options for a fee structure that would be fair to all who used the facilities, comparable to the model initiated by the new student fee structure.
- The new model that was chosen is $230 annually (or roughly $19/month) for faculty and staff, and provides access to more than 600,000 square feet of indoor recreation and fitness space and three indoor pools. According to Campus Recreation, the ultimate fee structure was benchmarked at Peer Institutions, indexed against the student-initiated fee, yet decidedly below market value off-campus.
The Faculty Benefits committee appreciates the points raised above and the open communication process in which it was recently conveyed to the committee. However, several additional concerns have been raised by committee members.
First, current use data also does not reflect usage in the past. In the case of Rec Hall, usage would be expected to be greater due to the past offering of recreation classes that were housed in Rec Hall, and open access to some parts of the facility.
Second, while Campus Recreation reported to us that they presented a report including these proposed changes at the President’s Council meeting in May 2017, there was no communication with the University Faculty Senate. It is the duty of the Faculty Benefits Committee to “investigate and be the faculty’s voice on the adequacy and other attributes of the University’s provisions for total compensation (salaries and benefits), and any other perquisites affecting faculty employment.” Yet, despite this mandate, there is no institutional structure that would facilitate regular communication about Recreational facilities, currently run through Student Affairs, to the Senate, even though potential implication of any changes could have a clear effect on faculty. The lack of faculty consultation about this change may be symptomatic of an institutional blind spot that allows major changes that affect faculty to go forth without adequate faculty representation.
Third, members of the Faculty Benefits committee are concerned that the creation of a new fee/access structure for community members will have a deleterious effect on the relationship between faculty and the community. Community members are now required to join the alumni association and pay an annual fee for use of the same facilities as faculty and staff, and there is a 200-person cap in place. (Recreation will consider expanding this number if demand increases.) Historically, many athletic facilities have had a more open approach to community use, just as the Penn State campuses themselves and their libraries, performances, and athletic events are open to the larger public. Committee members are concerned this is setting an unhealthy precedent.
Fourth, a thematic priority of the University’s Strategic Plan is Enhancing Health:
“Penn State will be a leader in promoting quality of life through comprehensive approaches to enhancing personalized and population health, achieved through a commitment to and investment in relevant research, education, clinical practice, and outreach” (see Strategic Plan – Enhancing Health web page.)
As stated on the University’s strategic plan webpage, the centerpiece of this vision is the recognition that multiple factors – “including individual biology and behaviors, the contexts in which people live and work…” are critical. As a result, any factor that reduces access (lack of free recreation facilities on the West side of the University Park campus, for example), without alternative incentives, would appear to be impediments to that strategic initiative.
Finally, in a competitive market for recruiting and retaining faculty (especially those that are healthy, rested, and unstressed) innovative approaches should be explored that include consideration of faculty well-being and health. Penn State could be granted a competitive edge if it does so. However, it is not clear if alternative fee/access models were considered alongside these concerns.
Based on this background and the current situation, we advance these recommendations:
- Any additional decisions about University recreational facilities that affect faculty, including access and fees, should be deferred until there is adequate, comprehensive consultation with the University Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits.
- Mechanisms should be implemented to involve the University Faculty Senate in decisions about changes to recreational facilities, including those at all University campuses. These could include the appointment of one representative from the University Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits on decision-making committees in Campus Recreation, and/or the appointment of a representative of Campus Recreation to sit on the Faculty Benefits committee as an advisory member.
- In light of the University’s goal of enhancing health and its importance in recruitment and retention of faculty, a Task Force should be formed to explore alternative models to promote affordability, access, and use of recreational facilities, including comprehensive data on current demand by faculty for recreational opportunities, the exploration of free or reduced-fee access to all recreational facilities for faculty and staff, and considerations about geographic proximity of accessible facilities to places of work. Task Force membership should include representatives from Faculty Senate Benefits Committee, staff, and representatives from both University Park and Campus locations.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON FACULTY BENEFITS
- Mary Beahm
- Renee Borromeo
- Lonnie Golden
- Galen A. Grimes, Chair
- Mark Horn
- Peter Jurs
- Cassandra Kitko
- John Liechty
- Kathleen Noce
- David Post
- Ira Saltz
- Geoff Scott
- Erica Smithwick, Vice Chair
- Gregory Stoner
- William Wenner
Report prepared with the cooperation of Laura Hall, Senior Director of Penn State Recreation