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January 10, 2013

Council focuses on non-tenure faculty policies

Senate Council has unanimously approved recommendations for fostering clearer communication of policies regarding full-time non-tenure stream faculty.

The Dec. 5 vote followed Faculty Assembly’s approval of the recommendations on Nov. 27. (See Dec. 6, University Times.)

Irene Frieze, who chaired the non-tenure stream faculty subcommittee of the Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee’s gender subcommittee, presented the council with a synopsis of her group’s recommendations, which sparked some questions and discussion between faculty and University administrators.

The committee recommended:

  • Units should have a publicly available policy on non-tenure stream faculty.
  • Position titles should be consistent with the faculty handbook.
  • Letters of appointment need to be more detailed in outlining expectations for the position, evaluation and promotion procedures and the time frame for the appointment.
  • Policies should include plans for regular evaluations, in accord with existing University policy.
  • Non-tenure stream faculty should be involved in evaluations and promotion deliberations for their peers.
  • Annual reviews also should include a terminal review for faculty whose contracts will not be renewed.
  • Units’ policies should outline criteria for promotion.
  • Procedures within each unit should include timely activation and maintenance of University privileges.

The document is posted at


Pitt administrators commended the subcommittee for its work in compiling the recommendations. Provost Patricia E. Beeson told Frieze that many of the issues the committee identified have been under review in the provost’s office.

“I think your committee worked well with our office in formulating the recommendations. They’re very much consistent with our ongoing efforts to more clearly define the career paths for the non-tenure stream faculty,” Beeson said.

Beeson said that gaining access to services such as the library and Blackboard has been a perennial problem for faculty. She said a committee of representatives from the provost’s office, the chief financial officer’s office, the schools and information technology areas was formed in the fall term to follow up on problems that had been uncovered by a committee several years ago.

The earlier committee “really addressed a lot of what were major problems at that time, but some of them have remained,” Beeson said. The new committee will give another look, “to see if we can’t go through it one more time and really get the process in place so that we are getting people into the system in time.”

Council representative Frank Wilson, president of Pitt-Greensburg’s Faculty Senate and a full-time non-tenure stream faculty member, pointed out that the subcommittee’s recommendations do not propose any policy change. “You’ve collected already-existing policies and are asking that we all be reminded that these have been the rules for a long time,” he said.

“The majority of the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh overall is full-time non-tenure stream faculty. That means that we’re valuable and we’re made to feel valuable most of the time.” He noted, however, that there are issues and thanked Frieze and her committee for their serious examination of the topic.

In light of the fact that University policies already are in place, Maria Kovacs, secretary of the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee, inquired about whose responsibility it is to ensure the policies are followed. “How are these being monitored right now and how can they be fixed?” she asked.

Beeson said faculty initially should speak with their chair, then, if necessary, approach their dean via their associate dean for faculty affairs.

The provost’s office is reviewing the policies with the University’s deans “to make sure that they’re being enforced uniformly across the schools.”

Beeson added that her office asks deans for copies of 10 percent of faculty annual review letters. “That’s one of the ways we try to monitor whether or not these are being enforced. What we’re really trying to do is raise awareness so that all the deans and all the chairs are aware of the policies,” she said.

She said her office has asked for copies of each unit’s job descriptions for non-tenure stream faculty and that it has received them from all but two units.

“The issue here is that we need to make them more widely available and that is an important issue,” Beeson said.

Kovacs said that if a department chair isn’t following the established policy, faculty might be forced into the uncomfortable position of essentially telling the boss that he or she isn’t doing his or her job.

Beeson said that the alternative path is to go through the associate dean for faculty affairs.

“You want to keep it within schools because each of the schools has very different career paths and expectations for the faculty in different positions,” Beeson said. “And the people most able to answer the questions would be those in the administrative roles within the schools.”

Kovacs inquired about whether a neutral faculty member could serve as an ombudsman to assist non-tenured junior faculty who may be afraid to express their concerns for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

Beeson said she would look into the possibility, reiterating that the associate dean for faculty affairs typically plays that role.

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Carey D. Balaban said the University has a grievance procedure that begins with the Senate’s tenure and academic freedom committee.

“If anyone feels that their career has been damaged by any activity taken, there’s an appeal policy,” Balaban said, noting that the faculty member need not be tenured or tenure-track to approach the tenure and academic freedom committee.


In other business, Senate President Thomas Smitherman encouraged Senate members to attend Pitt Day in Harrisburg, set for Feb. 12. Buses will leave Pittsburgh at 7 a.m. and are scheduled to return around 8:45 p.m.

For information, contact Jennifer L. Poller, manager of alumni advocacy, at 4-0108 or

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 9

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