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Faculty Senate Critical of Penn State’s Handling of Health Care Task Force

Penn State’s handling of its controversial health care program is under fire again.

The Penn State Faculty Senate approved a motion Tuesday afternoon that criticizes both university administrators and the senate’s leadership in a dispute over how the Wellness Task Force was established.

The task force was set up after widespread opposition forced the university to sideline its new wellness program last fall. Faculty members and staff objected to being asked to take a survey, which asked for information about personal health records. Those who refused would have to pay an additional $100 per month for health care. There were also widespread concerns about privacy and how that health information would be protected.

As a result, university president Rodney Erickson appointed members to a Wellness Task Force last year to review the health care program. The senate publicly took issue with that process Tuesday saying the administration and senate leaders should have allowed the senate to select members for the task force based on a vote by the senate.

The motion approved says, “Having failed to consult with the senate or senate council, before conceding to President Erickson’s rejection of selection by plebiscite, the chair may have substantially weakened the integrity and legitimacy of the senate as a democratic and representative institution.”

The measure says the senate’s leadership “ignored the expressed will of the senate, concerning the selection of faculty delegates to the wellness task force. That action raises concerns about the effective commitment of senate leaders and the university’s senior administrators to transparency and respect for shared governance.”

Matthew Woessner, the senator representing the Harrisburg campus, sponsored the motion. Before the vote he said the intent was not to question the integrity of Erickson or the senate leadership, but to make clear the senate was entitled to be consulted.

In other news, Erickson says the growing student demand for mental health services on campus is currently a high priority.

Jim Strouse, senator with the college of sciences, asked about the program, which direcators say is understaffed, underfinanced, and lacks sufficient space.

“It’s very much on the agenda. It’s something that we’re looking at in the next few weeks,” says Erickson.

The level of demand for student services has “skyrocketed in recent years,” Erickson says. To address the spike, he says the university added additional staff and needs to add more.

Additionally, he says the university needs to strike a balance between services offered on campus and services offered within the broader State College community.

“I assure you that this has not slipped through the cracks,” Erickson says.

Additionally, in response to a faculty member’s question, Erickson said the administration has no interest in changing the university’s policy for weapons on campus.

Currently, weapons are not allowed on campus. Those who have firearms for target shooting or hunting are required to secure them with university law enforcement while on campus.

“We really have no plans to change that. I certainly hope elected officials don’t go about changing that process,” Erickson says.

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