President Hennigan visits SGA meeting for second week in a row

Written By Alexis Bonifate, SGA Beat Writer

  This week, the Student Government Association (SGA), again hosted university President Paul Hennigan and the current Acting Provost Dr. Jonas Prida at the legislative body meeting. Their discussion was on the upcoming reaccreditation of the university and recent faculty layoffs. 

   Currently, the reaccreditation process is done every ten years but will change to every eight years after this year. Point Park will be evaluated by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), which oversees much of the accreditation for schools in mid-Atlantic states and insular territories of the United States. 

  “The Middle States Commission has appointed what is known as a visiting team of our peers, usually made up of six to eight people, all whom are working professionals at other middle states schools,” President Hennigan said. 

   He further explained that the team has a standard makeup of a student affairs professional, at least one faculty member, a university president (who chairs the team), an assessment person and a university finance professional. 

   The visit, which will be conducted virtually this year, is scheduled for March 21 through March 24. The team will create a schedule and determine beforehand who and what university individuals they may wish to meet with. After the visit, the recommendation will go back to the commission sometime in October for release back to PPU.

   SGA President Dennis McDermott opened up the question and answer portion of the meeting with a concern expressed by students that Point Park may have the possibility to lose accreditation based on complications caused by the pandemic. He inquired about any previous major concerns that have been expressed during the process that could bring about a cause for student concerns.

  Hennigan confirmed that Point Park has never faced any serious concerns or issues during the process and that it is also “very unusual” for a school to lose accreditation. The commission may put a school on probation or issue a warning but give the institution ample time to address the concern before making the decision to not issue accreditation. At this time, Hennigan does not expect there to be serious issues in the university’s ability to receive accreditation during this cycle. 

   Due to a directive from the University Board of Trustees to reduce the schools’ operating budget by $3 million and an additional few million for next year, the university made the difficult decision to not renew the contracts of 17 non-tenured faculty members.

   Tenure is achieved through what Hennigan described as a seven year path. The faculty have union representation that handle contract renewal and collective bargaining. The contract agreement from four years ago includes a section that includes the order of which category of faculty would be laid off in the event of a faculty reduction. 

   According to Hennigan, the faculty who are subject to these layoffs were determined through decisions made by department chairs and school deans, who are also responsible for maintaining academic quality. The student course evaluations, peer review, an annual self-evaluation and the annual meeting with the Provost of all full-time faculty provided the basis for the decisions in whose contracts will be non-renewed in order to maintain the highest level of academic quality.

   Senator Jade Steele posed the question about how the decisions were made and if it is a relatively proportional amount of non-renewed faculty layoffs within each school of study. 

“It is important to realize that in certain schools there are fewer people in the non-renewable category,” Prida said. Taking advice from chairs of departments and deans of the schools, there were meetings held to take a look at how the university “maintains the institutional mission, the big ideas of the university, the big ideas of the schools, the big ideas of the departments and what kind of decisions we can make that still allow those things to happen,” he explained.

   The process is not without some setbacks. The union representing the full-time faculty and the university is conducting an expedited arbitration. There is an ongoing dispute about the notification date that faculty were informed of this decision. 

  President McDermott made some announcements regarding the upcoming SGA elections. The week of elections will most likely be taking place the final week of March into April, with the exact date to still be set. The due date for applications is Feb. 28.  Las week, President McDermott announced that he would be seeking re-election as president for next year. This week, Senator Kendra Summers-Stephens announced that she would be seeking election for vice president. Senator TJ Graise also announced that he would be seeking election for president.

   Senator Grace Tyler Frank-Rempel reported on some updates from the Undergrad Curriculum Committee. A new proposal has been made to alter some of the course requirements within the School of Communications. She said that these changes would specifically impact the majors of broadcast production & media management, journalism, multimedia, public relations & advertising and the new sports communication major. The changes remove several classes like the course requirements in economics, political science, history, English literature and a foreign language. Four new courses will be adopted to replace these. In the NSET department, within the civil engineering major, a new course has been added, a new program and the senior capstone has seen a name change. 

   Senator Graise provided updates on the multicultural committee. A meeting was held including Director of Student Development JW Tabbachi, VP for Human Resources Lisa Stefanko, Coordinator for Inclusive Excellence Jayme Kerr, Director of Title IX and Diversity Vanessa Love and the President of the Black Student Union. The name, mission and focus of the organization is still undetermined, and a survey will be sent out for students to provide input. There is a space for the organization now open on the second floor of the Student Center. 

   The last segment of the meeting had Senators Anna Skeels and Summers-Stephens announcing their plan for a LGBTQ+ Scavenger hunt around campus in accordance with their representation at the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Committee meetings. The event will feature posters around campus with different links to organizations in Pittsburgh and around the world. Once the scavenger hunt is completed, the participants will receive a list of prizes of which from they can pick. The prizes will be delivered to them wherever they are on-campus or off in the downtown area. The dates for this event are still to be determined