Report on Spring 2017 College Visits
The Senate Officers visited six academic units during Spring 2017 including the College of Arts and Architecture (January 23), the University Libraries (January 27), the Schreyer Honors College (January 30), the College of Information Sciences and Technology (February 6), the College of Agricultural Sciences (February 17), and the Smeal College of Business (February 20).
During visits, Senate Officers met with staff, students, faculty, and administrators. Each group was met with separately to encourage open and frank discussions. Two basic questions were asked in each meeting: “What do you enjoy about your campus and your position” and “What are the challenges faced at your campus or position?” These simple questions led to rich discussions.
While colleges vary in their enrollment, academic programs, and the nature of their student populations, consistent themes were evident:
- LionPATH – There continues to be a common theme of LionPATH angst across colleges, and a sense that there is a reluctance across the University to raise the true severity of the issues to the University’s leadership. Among the issues still concerning colleges is an inability to produce accurate degree audits, the handling of transfer credits, a non-intuitive interface, and an overall inability to access the data that is needed to make decisions (e.g., data that was previously accessible via the Data Warehouse). In general, colleges reported that they are using manual processes for graduation readiness review, as LionPATH cannot accurately process the information and transfer credits that apply.
- CollegeNet – Colleges continue to report that classroom scheduling using the new system can be problematic, such as courses or exams being scheduled in rooms that don’t meet teaching need and rooms that are scheduled for 5 days a week but only used for three.
- The Graduate School and the new “Category P & R” designations – We heard common reports that the new Category P & R designations, including the right to teach 500-level courses, are negatively impacting faculty morale and increasingly making it difficult to staff courses with individuals who the Colleges deem highly qualified.
- Proposed changes to HR 21 – The Libraries are dedicated to the equitable treatment of fixed term and tenure track faculty, to the point where they use the same professorial titles for all.
- The changing role of staff – In several of the colleges, staff shared a concern for what they perceive as a culture of “rankism.” They perceive that staff are considered “lesser than” faculty due to the nature of their positions, even when they have the same academic credentials. Staff also expressed a concern that they now serve a greater number of faculty and students than ever, without an increase in their own numbers. Increasing University policy and regulation requirements has further added to their workload. In addition, they are concerned about their professional development. They feel that Penn State does not have a defined career path for staff and that it is difficult to prepare themselves for higher level positions, as many training opportunities are restricted to those already in those higher-level positions and some supervisors seem unwilling to help them grow (which is perceived as a desire by supervisors to keep their staff in place).
- The changing role of faculty – Faculty expressed concern that they now spend a significant amount of time on administrative and even janitorial tasks that used to be handled by others, wondering if it makes sense to shift these duties to the University’s most expensive employees? Faculty also raised concern about the increasing number of training and certifications they now have to complete.
- Risk management – Colleges expressed concern that Penn State has become too risk adverse, hindering their ability to innovate, collaborate externally, and so forth.
In addition to the overall summary provided above, unique information was learned from each academic unit. Below is a unit-by-unit summary, while an appendix to this report provides detailed information for each academic unit. A careful read of this information will illustrate the unique attributes and successes of our academic units, as well as the important issues they are confronting. It is our hope that this information will ultimately reveal pathways for improvement.
College of Arts and Architecture
There was a great sense of pride in the College from those we met with, particularly for its competitive programs and nationally-recognized graduates. Space is a concern for the College, particularly for the Palmer Museum of Art where more room is need for both display and storage. Its Zoller Gallery has become a popular place for students to gather, which might also indicate a need for more student spaces across the college. Growing a diverse student population was also identified as a challenge, as the College feels it needs more resources in order to compete with peer institutions. They feel that recruitment and retention of students is critical to the survival of the performing arts at Penn State, from the Blue Band to gallery exhibits to live performances. This College was especially concerned about faculty maintaining Graduate Faculty Status, given many of their traditional terminal degrees are MFA, MLA, etc., and not PhDs, which is the terminal degree recognized by the Graduate School.
During our visit to the University Libraries, we learned a great deal about the transformation of libraries like ours in an era of increasing digitization. As the Libraries struggles to gain digital access to the resources we need, they are also concerned with ensuring that digital information continues to be available and that access to that information won’t be lost at some point in the future. This can mean a need to retain physical copies of materials even when digital versions are available. Space continues to be a challenge for the Libraries, as they try to balance increased numbers of patrons and the needs for public space, storage, and collaboration. Newer spaces like the Knowledge Commons, the Maker Commons, and data visualization walls have enhanced our Libraries and added a new mesh of services. But we learned that as the number of patrons and library services grow, security has become an increasing concern for staff. Finances continue to be a challenge, as materials prices rise every year and exceed the rate of inflation. Keeping their collections strong in light of financial constraints is a challenge. They worry that even their current strategies to reduce costs will not be sustainable, particularly with the loss of revenue from the student IT fee. The Libraries are embracing Open Educational Resources (OER) as a key way to help reduce costs not only for the University, but for its students, as well.
Schreyer Honors College
[Note: Since this feedback was compiled, the new SHC dean (Peggy Johnson) was hired and will start Summer 2017.]
The Schreyer Honors College is in a state of transition now and is currently being led by an interim Dean. They are happy to report that things are going well despite leadership transitions! Members of the College are proud of their residential college feel within a large university. Challenges include their application process, which utilizes faculty reviewers as well as SHC staff reviewers. Faculty reviewers would like to see the process become even more transparent to them, while staff grapple with issues maintaining confidentiality for the applicants. The college is also addressing their desire to increase student diversity, with a diversity task force working on recommendations to the Dean. They also seek to increase the diversification of their student population with regard to the disciplines they represent (over half of the students are in engineering or science majors). Funding continues to be a challenge, as well, in order to attract top students and to meet need requirements of current students. We discussed some of the creative advertising the college had done during football games, but were surprised to find they received no break in costs from Athletics.
College of Information Sciences and Technology
Members of the College shared a great deal of excitement for the caliber of their academic programs and the attention they receive from external recruiters. They are proud of events like “IST Startup Week” and love seeing that concept spread across the University. There is concern across the college with regard to the name of the College and the name of the building they occupy Within two years, administrators report that they will no longer fit in their part of the building. Renovations are planned for the ground floor, and also being considered for the third floor, to maximize their use of their space. We also heard complaints about the pending removal of the “IST” sign near the Gateway entrance on Burrowes, which they feel provides identity and recognition for the College.
College of Agricultural Sciences
Members of the College are proud of their academic programs and shared many positive attributes including the hands-on opportunities that are available (e.g., the Creamery, dairy facilities, greenhouses). Students would like to their curriculum newer technologies, such as “precision ag.” They also expressed a desire to have “ag literacy” incorporated into the University’s General Education curriculum. Faculty perceive a culture of disengagement in the College, which comes from both a lack of time and also a sense that their involvement won’t make a difference. Faculty also expressed a concern for job security and a desire for greater budget transparency in the College, citing that “faculty imaginations are probably far worse than the budget realities.” This was related to their expressed concerns for the long-term funding of their college, given the tenuous state of the PA State Budget.
Smeal College of Business
Members of the College are happy with their facilities, their location, and their leadership, citing that “everyone seems to care about what they do and where they are.” They are also proud of their honor code and wonder if it could be useful to have such a code in place across the University as concerns for academic integrity seem to be on the rise in higher education. Among their strengths, they also described their students’ study abroad experiences. They are frustrated, however, that Starfish can’t be used for study abroad or career advising, forcing students and faculty to have to use multiple tools across the advising spectrum. They are also concerned about the new University policy that prevents faculty who lead study abroad programs from having their family accompany them. They feel this makes some of their programs difficult to operate, as faculty are not willing to leave their families for significant periods of time) and that the policy also seems to be based on an assumption that all study abroad programs are comprised of groups of students following a faculty member around – a model that is not the one used for Smeal-approved programs which partner with international institutions.
The issue of “One University Geographically Distributed” was also shared as a concern, as members of the College shared that the University has four business schools and programs that have very different missions. They find that having parity with other business programs offered at Commonwealth Campus locations is challenging to achieve given different enrollment criteria at various locations. They said their accrediting agency understands this situation and accredits them separately, yet the University requires that a course taught for one program must consist of the same content and rigor as that same course when taught for another program. Finally, members of the College shared their concern about students “gaming the system” in order to get into the College. There are stories of students taking MATH 110 instead of MATH 140 to keep their GPA higher, taking the same course multiple times to get a GPA up, and signing up for 30-40 credits once the “gate drops” in order to get into desired majors. Contributing to this is the open enrollment gateway through the Division of Undergraduate Studies. We were told that the resulting additional demand leads to challenges with staffing its courses. Additionally, the college would like to see more of its courses specifically scheduled in its purpose-built building, but CollegeNet does not always allow this. They are hopeful that they can work with the University’s leadership to come up with creative solutions to these problems.
For more detailed feedback from representatives of these academic units, see the appendix to this report.
Ann H. Taylor, Faculty Senate Secretary, in consultation with Faculty Senate Chair James A. Strauss and Chair-Elect Matthew Woessner.
Senate Council 2016-2017
- Mohamad Ansari
- Rebecca Bascom
- Victor Brunsden
- Caroline Eckhardt
- Samantha Geisinger
- Galen Grimes
- Kathryn Jablokow
- Patricia Koch
- Ellen Knodt
- Binh Le
- Jamie Myers
- Sudarshan Nelatury
- John Nousek
- Nicholas Rowland
- Robert Shannon
- Amit Sharma
- Erica Smithwick
- James Strauss
- Bonj Szczygiel
- Ann Taylor
- Matthew Wilson
- Douglas Wolfe
- Matthew Woessner