This evening at 5:00, SOS held the first of three colloquii meetings to discuss the relationship between students, faculty, alumni, and trustees. The meeting in 106 HUB featured two guest speakers; Anne Neal, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA); and Charles Mitchell, Program Director of the same organization. Neal was recently in the news for her support of the decision to let Columbia students to vote on whether to bring ROTC back on campus. The discussion at the meeting revolved around engaging alumni and making institutions like Penn State accountable to the taxpayer. At one point, Neal noted that “Institutions… are more interested in climbing walls and sushi bars than in education.” While I know we have sushi facilities in the HUB, I personally would love the addition of a climbing wall. Hopefully, there’s room in the budget for it. If UT-Austin can have one, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.
After that, the group delved into the issue of tenured vs. nontenured faculty. The specter of the Professor of Practice and the dilution of the power of tenure-track faculty in the Faculty Senate were discussed. The consensus regarding nontenure-track faculty was that students were “not getting the best bang for the buck in education.” The influx in nontenure-track faculty resulted from a huge push from the Administration for cost savings.
Basically, what’s happening here is that more and more students are being taught by “teachers” that, not only haven’t earned the highest degree in their field, but also may not come from academia at all, but rather the professional sphere. This means that, usually, they cannot teach a class as effectively as a tenure-track professor with a terminal degree. The main reason for this is that it is cheaper to do so. Clearly, these are problems at Penn State.
Another topic discussed was the Board of Trustees. Neal noted that the role of Trustees was to protect the taxpayer’s interest. One way to keep the Trustees honest came in the form of legislation passed in April of this year, the Pennsylvania Taxpayer Transparency Act. Also discussed was the size of the BoT. At 32 persons, ACTA regards the PSU Board as a “big board.” (The average size of the BoT at the top 40 American universities is 40 people)
Ideally, the BoT would be made up of 10-15 members. In addition to the problems of BoT size, accountability was also stressed. At one point, Neal said, “You can put pressure on the Trustees to keep students first.” Mitchell chimed in that, like Justice Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Then, before the conclusion of the discussion, the role of the student, as product or as consumer, was discussed.