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Senate 2007-2008
May 27, 2008, Volume 54, No. 34

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Report of the Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty and the Academic Mission

Charges for 2007-2008
At the beginning of the year, the Senate Executive Committee gave the Committee on Faculty and the Academic Mission these charges for its work during academic year 2007-2008:

1. Vigorously pursue the examination of non-standing faculty that the Committee was unable to undertake in 2006-2007.

2. Continue offering advice to the Provost, as needed, on the issue of  disclosure of a prior criminal record for all prospective faculty members.

3. Investigate retirement incentives at other universities and explore post-retirement options.

4. Review and discuss the Committee’s general charge, as provided in the Rules of the Faculty Senate, and identify what you believe to be the most pressing issues facing the Faculty over the next few years.  In light of your discussions, recommend to the Senate Executive Committee two or three high-priority charges for the Committee on Faculty to undertake in academic year 2008-2009.

Self-disclosure of Prior Criminal Records by Prospective Faculty Members
At its first meeting, the Chair of the Senate Executive Committee (SEC) informed the Committee on Faculty that the Provost had requested SEC’s urgent consideration of, and a decision on, the issue of whether or not candidates for faculty positions should be required to disclose prior criminal convictions (hereinafter, “self-disclosure”). SEC asked us to make this our highest priority for the year.

We, therefore, began a series of meetings in which we attempted to achieve a consensus on whether or not self-disclosure should be required, and if so, under what conditions this should be done. In our work, we relied heavily on the Report on Disclosure of Prior Criminal Records in Faculty Hiring presented to the Provost by the Committee on May 16, 2007 (The White Paper).

Despite vigorous and thorough discussion, and despite the excellent foundation provided by the White Paper (Almanac March 18, 2008), we were unable to achieve such a consensus. In the end, we presented two statements to SEC, one recommending that a self-disclosure policy be developed, and one not making this recommendation. These statements found equal support within the Committee. However, the entire Committee agreed that any self-disclosure policy should be designed with great care so that academic freedom and individual privacy are preserved. 

The Committee recognized that considerations of equity with other University constituencies—students, staff, and administration—some of whom currently are required to self-disclose, could be argued to recommend self-disclosure by faculty as well. Our concerns about the issues of freedom and privacy, however, as well as the lack of any evidence that self-disclosure is effective in securing the safety of the community, prevented us from recommending that self-disclosure should be required of potential new faculty members.

Study of Non-standing Faculty
During the spring semester, the Committee moved on to an examination of the role of non-standing faculty at Penn. This issue has come to the Committee’s attention repeatedly for at least a decade, with little apparent result. Part of this appears to be because for much of this time, Penn had no central mechanism or office for gathering information about such concerns, and in part because the issue is so large and multi-faceted.

The Committee therefore determined to divide the problem into distinct sectors, and to focus on one or two of these in an attempt to move the study forward.

We analyzed the issues involving non-standing faculty at Penn as metaphorically extending along two perpendicular axes, ideal/real and practical/philosophical. The first of these axes extends from considerations of the ideal ways that such faculty should be employed and treated at Penn, to the questions of how they are employed and treated in reality. The second range of questions concerns the large-scale, philosophical issues of the employment of non-standing faculty—for instance, their academic freedom—versus the practical, day-to-day details of their employment—for instance, access to office space, computers and the other physical infrastructure of academia, and representation at faculty meetings and other specifics of their function in the academic community.

We decided to address two aspects of the issue that were highlighted by this analysis.

In the “real” sphere, we decided to try to estimate the proportion of Penn undergraduate course units that are being taught by non-standing faculty. To begin this, we initiated a study of the courses taken by a group of graduating Penn seniors, examining how many courses, and which ones, were taught by non-standing faculty members in various categories, and how many and which ones by standing faculty.  Our study will initially focus on undergraduates in SAS, the School that teaches the largest number of undergraduates and of undergraduate course units.

To begin this study, we met with Stacey Lopez, Penn’s new Director of Institutional Research and Analysis, and solicited her collaboration in the study, which she gladly offered.  Through Associate Provost Vincent Price, the Committee then approached Dean Rebecca Bushnell and Dennis DeTurck and Kent Peterman of SAS, who have offered their cooperation.

In the “ideal” realm, we began an examination of the philosophical issues involving the employment of non-standing faculty, and the ways in which some of those issues work out in the practical realm. In particular, we began consideration of such questions as the motivation of  department chairs for hiring non-standing faculty and the appropriate responsibilities of such faculty.  We also considered the potential problems associated with the increasing role of non-standing faculty at Penn and the resulting need to consider and protect the interests of all parties—our students and the University, as well as those of the non-standing faculty themselves.

Both of these efforts will require long-term effort by the Committee, extending well beyond a single academic year; they therefore give rise to our most important recommendations for the Committee’s work in future years.

Recommendation of a General Study of Penn as an Eminent University in the Twenty-First Century (The Millennium Study)
The Committee has come to believe that our study of the role of non-standing faculty addresses one aspect of a larger issue that is of profound importance, not just to Penn but to our entire society, as we move into the twenty-first century: What should be the nature of a great University in the new millennium?

The immense, even exponential increase in knowledge has pushed the creative front of many disciplines farther and farther—in some cases, a decade or more—beyond the level of the introductory survey course.  In many fields, years of postdoctoral work are now common before the first faculty position is achieved. As part of this growth, the research interests of most faculty members are increasingly specialized, and many of us are far from conversant with much of the new work in our own fields.

At the same time, the explosion in the technology for disseminating scholarship, research, and art, means that the results of  our work are accessible to far more people, and far more rapidly than has ever been the case. Thus the effects of our work on society may be more profound, and more immediate, than ever before.

In a similar way, advances in the technology of teaching have been so swift and so wide-ranging that some have advocated the development of a group of teaching specialists, whose expertise is primarily in the techniques of teaching, and only secondarily in their conventional academic disciplines. Already, some or much of the teaching of introductory language and science courses has fallen to this group.

The meaning of an academic degree from an elite University is no longer the same as it once was, especially at the bachelor’s level. These degrees were once regarded as the mark of broadly educated men and women, who were prepared not for a specific type of work, or for work in a specific type of enterprise but for a broad range of activity, including simply to be informed and perceptive citizens. Increasingly, however, degrees from eminent institutions are regarded as credentials that should certify that their holders are prepared for specific functions in society.

These are among the considerations that lead us to call on the Senate Executive Committee to develop a forum (The Millennium Study?) in which the Penn community can examine the essence of the eminent University from the broadest perspective—in which we can discuss who we are, what we want to be in the coming years, and how we should change in order to accomplish those goals.

Penn will most assuredly experience the future. Whether we do so blindly and stochastically, placing one foot in front of the other, or with forethought and some sense of purpose, is up to us.

Recommendations for Next Year’s Committee (2008-2009)

1. Vigorously push forward the study of non-standing faculty that the Committee has begun and pass the work on to future years’ Committees to maintain the continuity and momentum of this important work.

2. Study and make recommendations on the role of emeritus faculty at Penn, including the rights and privileges extended to them by their Departments and Schools with a view to ensuring that they are able to enrich Penn by their continued activity, and to benefit from their continuing contact with the communities of which they have been valued members.

3. Examine the tenuring process, with particular reference to the School of Medicine, and with special attention to the issues of conversion from research-track to tenure-track or tenure, the timing of applications for tenure, and the declining number of junior faculty on the tenure track.

4. Review and discuss the Committee’s general charge, as provided in the Rules of the Faculty Senate, and identify what you believe to be the most pressing issues facing the Faculty over the next few years.  In light of your discussions, recommend to the Senate Executive Committee two or three high-priority charges for the Committee on Faculty to undertake in academic year 2008-2009.

2007-2008 Committee Members
Stephen Phipps, School of Arts & Science/Earth & Environmental
Science, Chair
Frank Goodman, School of Law
Grace Kao, School of Arts & Science/Sociology
Ian Lustick, School of Arts & Science/Political Science
Reed Pyeritz, School of Medicine, Genetics
Diana Slaughter-Defoe, Graduate School of Education
Senate Chair, Larry Gladney, School of Arts and Sciences/Physics
Senate Chair-Elect Sherrill Adams, School of Dental Medicine


Almanac - May 27, 2008, Volume 54, No. 34