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Senate 2008-2009
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May 12, 2009, Volume 55, No. 33

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

Charges for 2008-2009

The Senate Executive Committee gave the Committee on Faculty and the Academic Mission these charges for its work during academic year 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 reasons for and the impact of the declining number of assistant professors in the standing faculty in the School of Medicine, and determine whether this decline has also affected other schools.  Make recommendations for mitigating the impact of this decrease in young faculty members on the energy and vigor of the University.

4. Examine the conversion of faculty from the research track to tenure track or tenure, to determine the impact of some individuals having more time to tenure.

5. 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 2009-2010.

Study of non-standing faculty

Most of the Committee’s time during the year was devoted to our continuing examination of the role of non-standing faculty at Penn. 
In the last three or four decades, a broad range of institutions across American academia have employed increasing numbers of faculty who are not tenured or on the tenure track.  This trend is drawing increasing attention across higher education, in legislatures and in state and federal agencies that deal with colleges and universities, in the press, and among the general public.  The trend potentially represents a profound change in American higher education.

Our study was begun in the spring term of 2008, because we felt that as a nationally and globally eminent university, Penn should know as precisely as possible how many non-standing faculty members we have and what roles they play here, and that it should ensure that their employment brings the greatest possible benefits to their students and colleagues, to these faculty members themselves, and to the University as a whole.

At Penn, as at other institutions, non-standing faculty play important roles in both teaching and research; in each area, questions arise involving the appropriate responsibilities for such faculty, about their relations with their colleagues on the standing faculty, and about their work conditions, rights under the guarantees of academic freedom, etc.  Because the issue is so large and multifaceted, the Committee decided to focus initially on two aspects:  gathering data about the present role of non-standing faculty in undergraduate teaching, and on a more abstract, philosophical discussion about the role of non-standing faculty at Penn.

As the School of Arts and Sciences teaches by far the most undergraduate credit-hours at Penn, we decided to begin by gathering data on teaching in SAS.  With the help of Stacey Lopez, Penn’s Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research and Analysis, and with the cooperation of Associate Provost Vincent Price, and of Dean Rebecca Bushnell and the SAS staff, we requested and have received an informative body of data from that School.   We are continuing our study of this data.

We have asked the Deans of other Schools that teach large numbers of undergraduates for similar data.

We continue to believe that this study is central to understanding Penn’s recent history and to planning its future; it is therefore the focus of our most important recommendations for the Committee’s work in coming years.

Millennium Discussion of the Role of Non-standing Faculty

In connection with our study, the Committee worked with SEC and the Office of the Provost to sponsor a Millennium Discussion on Faculty in the 21st Century, held at SEC’s meeting on November 12, 2008. This discussion was part of the Millennium Study of the University that the Committee recommended in its Annual Report of last year. The Committee developed a set of talking points for the discussion, which was moderated by Associate Provost Vincent Price and Committee Chair Steve Phipps.  The discussion was wide-ranging and animated, and SEC members made many helpful and insightful comments, both in the discussion and in later e-mails.

Revision of the Faculty Handbook; Recommendation for future revision

During the spring term, the Committee was asked to review and correct parts of sections I  and II of the Faculty Handbook, which deal with University and faculty structure and governance. The discussions about these revisions highlighted for the Committee that the Handbook is the Faculty’s closest approximation to a Constitution. Together with the University Charter and the Statutes of the Trustees, it is perhaps the central document in University governance. The documents that will comprise the new version of the Handbook are drawn from a variety of sources, including the previous editions of the Handbook, the Statutes, and documents issued by the Offices of the Provost and of the President, These components were widely dispersed—more like the British than the American constitution—and it is only recently that they have been collected into a single comprehensive document, thanks to hard work by Linda Koons and others in the Office of the Provost.

This in turn suggested to the Committee that it would be good for the Faculty, in consultation with the Office of the Provost, to do a more thorough review of the Handbook, perhaps even to rewrite it as a single, coherent document.  This would also be an appropriate time to raise outstanding issues of University governance that should be addressed in a constitutional document.

Renewed recommendation of a general study of Penn as an eminent University in the 21st century (“The Millennium Study”)

Last year, moved in part by our study of non-standing faculty, the Committee recommended that SEC sponsor a wide-ranging study and discussion devoted to this question:  What should be the nature of a great University in the new millennium?

In making this recommendation, we cited among other things the expansion of knowledge and the increasing specialization of scholarship, the explosion in the technology for publication and dissemination of its results, and in the technology of teaching, and in the pressures—in part resulting from these trends—to divorce teaching from research, and to place the former in the hands of professional teachers who are not expected to dedicate major efforts to scholarship and research.  Our society’s expectations of higher education also appear to be changing—increasingly, the college diploma appears to be regarded as a credential for employment, and perhaps less as purely a sign of education in the deep sense.

The discussion held under SEC’s auspices last November 12 was an excellent contribution to the Millennium Study, but the study should not end there.  We again call on SEC to foster this study, and offer the Committee’s help in advancing it.

Recommendations for next year’s committee (2009-2010)

We recommend that next year’s committee consider these matters as it plans its work:

1. Continue to advance the Committee’s study of non-standing faculty, 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 reasons for and the impact of the declining number of assistant professors in the standing faculty in the School of Medicine, and determine whether this decline has also affected other schools.  Make recommendations for mitigating the impact of this decrease in young faculty members on the energy and vigor of the University.

4. Examine the conversion of faculty from the research track to tenure track or tenure, to determine the impact of some individuals having more time to tenure.

5. 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 2010-2011.

2008-2009 Committee Members

Stephen Phipps, School of Arts and Sciences, Chair

Grace Kao, School of Arts and Sciences

Ian Lustick, School of Arts and Sciences

Reed Pyeritz, School of Medicine

Diana Slaughter-Defoe, Graduate School of Education

Beth Winkelstein, School of Engineering and Applied Science

Sherri Adams, School of Dental Medicine, ex officio

Harvey Rubin, School of Medicine, ex officio

 
Almanac - May 12, 2009, Volume 55, No. 33