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University of Pittsburgh

September 2, 2010

Senate Matters:

Faculty should consider University Senate service

Commitment and priorities

As we enter a new academic year, many of us feel a bit exhausted, not from hectic summer vacations or the heat and humidity, but because of the sustained stress of an unpredictable economy and its effects on our lives, our teaching and our students.

Last year, in an attempt to respond responsibly to state appropriation cuts and an unsure endowment future, Pitt’s administration undertook cost-saving measures aimed at sustaining our core missions while minimizing pain for faculty, staff and students. These included a hiring freeze except where new hires had already been approved, an across-the-board salary freeze and modest tuition increases (2.5-5.5 percent). Although these measures seemed tough, there was a sense of shared pain and also the realization that cuts were better than the more draconian options of layoffs and salary reductions endured by other institutions. Still, these measures have taken their toll on faculty morale at Pitt. Classroom loads that might have been reduced by additional hires have continued, and the increased cost of living has been absorbed.

Within this context, the time never has been better for faculty to embrace their only instrument for open discussion and problem-solving with the administration: the University Senate. Here are some of the ways the Senate has worked over the past year to directly promote your well-being:

As it does every year, the Senate budget policies committee (BPC) reviewed the administration’s report on the University’s fiscal health, considered the balance sheet of obligations and incomes, and helped define priorities for the final budget submitted to the Board of Trustees.  BPC strongly recommended 2 percent for salary maintenance for all employees whose work performance during the past year has been rated as at least satisfactory, and 1 percent for merit, market and equity adjustments to be made at the unit level. These subsequently became the chancellor’s recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

BPC also monitors the salaries of other faculty, both in our region and at other large universities that are fellow members of the Association of American Universities.  Although we all would like higher salaries, Pitt faculty salaries compare favorably with those at peer institutions, landing somewhere in the middle.

Senate members, including some from the Senate benefits and welfare committee, again served on the University’s Medical Advisory Committee. MAC is charged with annually reviewing prices negotiated with our health care provider, UPMC Health Plan, defining  premiums, co-pays and related benefits. The University is the single largest corporate member of the UPMC Health Plan, which creates significant leverage in negotiations. (Paradoxically, Pitt faculty and staff pay less for the UPMC Health Plan than do employees of UPMC itself.) For several years, the University administration has maintained the policy of absorbing 80 percent of the increases in health care costs. But MAC input guides the way those increased costs are passed along to faculty and staff, closely considering the impact of specific changes on University employees as a whole.

• The Senate tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) continued to be a vital element in maintaining academic freedom and academic responsibility at our institution. TAFC is always ready to mediate in disputes about promotion and reappointment. Although most of TAFC’s deliberations are confidential, the committee also takes the academic pulse of the University each year, quantifying the ratio of tenure-stream to non-tenure-stream faculty, the percentage of faculty per school at each academic level, and other trends. If some systematic threat to academic integrity arises, TAFC members are the first to know and they report on it during monthly Faculty Assembly meetings.

The University Senate is concerned with other quality-of-campus-life issues, including Fitness for Life, classroom size and availability, recycling and library initiatives. A list of committee, Faculty Assembly and Senate Council members as well as Faculty Assembly and Senate Council meeting minutes are available on the University Senate web site, www.pitt.edu/univsenate/index.html.

The faculty are a university’s most valuable resource. In a time of uncertainty and potential change, the University Senate provides a space where your problems and opinions can be heard.  Find out who your Faculty Assembly and committee representatives are so you can talk to them directly.

Please consider making service in the University Senate as a faculty representative or committee member part of your academic life. This year, the Senate Matters column will be checking in regularly with three faculty members who just recently have made such a commitment:

Colleen Culley, associate professor, School of Pharmacy;

William Elliott III, assistant professor, School of Social Work, and

Kevin Kearns, professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

They will attend their first Faculty Assembly meeting as representatives of their schools on Sept. 7. We appreciate their willingness to give other faculty members a window on their Senate experience and look forward to sharing their impressions with you.

Michael R. Pinsky is president of the University Senate.


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