Faculty Senate issues own ideas on Penn State governance

Penn State’s faculty should have more of a say in how the university is run because they are experts in higher education, a committee tasked by the Faculty Senate said in a report Monday.

The report spells out more than 20 recommendations to improve governance and communications at Penn State, one of which is the addition of academic representatives to the board of trustees. The faculty committee’s report argues against some of the recommendations from late last year made by Jack Wagner, the then-Auditor General.

“The (a)uditor (g)eneral’s belief that rank-and-file faculty are mere employees without policy-making responsibilities is seriously at odds with generally accepted views of higher education,” the report said.

“In contrast to the governance structure recommended by the (a)uditor (g)eneral, the Special Committee offers an alternative approach that would modernize the composition of the (b)oard, increase academic expertise in its membership by adding (a)cademic (t)rustees, and retain the means by which the (u)niversity is held accountable to the public it serves.”

The special faculty committee was tasked with studying the university and board of trustees to find ways to improve governance and communication in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the trustees’ response to it.

The committee, chaired by emeritus professor John Nichols, reviewed a slew of reports, including the Freeh report, Wagner’s report, the rebuttal to the Freeh report commissioned by the family of Joe Paterno, among others. The faculty’s report appears to be the first set of recommendations from an internal group.

The report recommends that trustees be selected because of their qualifications and not who they represent or their connections.

The report also argues for keeping the president a voting member of the board, which is in opposition to what Wagner’s report recommended.

“Maintaining a strong president who has the authority to match the huge responsibility of managing an exceeding(ly) complex, multibillion-dollar academic institution should be, in the opinion of the Special Committee, a high priority,” the report’s authors wrote.

The trustees have promised to consider the Faculty Senate report. Penn State spokesman David La Torre said the board “will carefully review” it.

“The (b)oard has enacted several governance and transparency reforms and is exploring others,” La Torre said. “The report of the Special Committee on University Governance appointed by the Faculty Senate will be an important component in this ongoing effort.”

The specific recommendations from the Faculty Senate report would change the composition of the board, but it does not go as far as suggesting a number. Wagner had recommended a 22-member board, which the faculty report said was reasonable.

The report said the university’s methodology for selecting board members is “unusual — if not unique — among public universities.” They propose a transparent vetting process and the establishment of criteria for those who serve.

The faculty group would like the Faculty Senate to elect the two recommended academic trustees, one of whom works at the University Park campus and the second from a branch campus. The group would like to see tenured faculty appointed to the each of the board’s six committees.

The report recommends reducing the number of trustees who are selected to represent agricultural societies and business and industry interests. Trustees from other sectors, such as humanities or the arts, should be added, the report said.

“The (c)ommittee believes that the existing formula of representation by which constituent groups select a certain quota of (b)oardmembers is anachronistic and the (b)oard membership should come from a greater diversity of sectors and interests reflecting the modern mission of the (u)niversity,” the report said.

According to the report, the faculty group recommends removing the governor’s appointees, such as the secretaries of the departments of Education or Agriculture.

The report recommends maintaining the president’s seat on the board and its voting power and called Wagner’s recommendation of stripping the voting power to be a “cosmetic change that would have little practical implication” on how the university runs.

“Until recently, the (b)oard was too reliant on the (p)resident as its primary source of information about the functioning of the (u)niversity and had only limited direct and meaningful contact with the faculty regarding important academic policy matters about which the faculty have specific, first-hand knowledge,” the report said.

The report suggests the student trustee be selected through an internal process instead of appointed by the governor. The report said a Penn State staff member should be appointed as a non-voting member, too.

Outside of governance issues, the report recommended better communications about the university and it said the communications work should be done by those who work for Penn State.

“The Penn State faculty and staff have countless external contacts every day,” the report says. “Therefore, how they and the rest of the (u)niversity community view the institution overall, how they interpret the sad events of the past several months, and whether they understand and support the strategy for recovery and accountability will largely drive their effectiveness as ambassadors of Penn State.”

The report recommended the university evaluate the public relations consultants the university hired and make the findings public.