The first decade of the new millennium has become the Global Information Decade. Public communication, whether personal or through mass communication, is not only common but expected. Just 15 years ago the Internet, created by the U.S. government as a means for physical scientists to communicate with each other on matters of defense and the space program, was small and quite simple, though it seemed a mysterious and complex thing to most of us.
Now the Internet is so massive no one knows how big it is or how to control it; it is used by every country and by a majority of people on the planet in one form or another, even some who do not have a computer or electricity. Without the Internet, personal communication, television, business, science and health care, as we know it, would not function properly. We have come a long way in this Internet world. Or have we? The University Senate just got permission to send to all Pitt faculty and members of the University Senate an e-mail newsletter on a monthly basis. But will this new e-mailed publication be read?
Most departments, academic groups and organizations send out regular bulk e-mails to people on their distribution lists. However, sometimes there is too much information coming in. Spam is the term describing unwanted and unsolicited e-mails from bulk distribution lists. No one who has an e-mail address is immune to spam. Still, one needs to read important messages. How does one separate out important information and direct personal communications from spam? This is an important question because information overload decreases the ability of the person to identify those pieces of information that are actually of use to them. We have all had the experience of throwing out a letter unopened because it appeared to be junk mail, only to realize later that it was important. In fact, some rebate checks are mailed to consumers in such bulk mail looking envelopes in the hope that the rebate checks will be discarded with the rest of the junk mail.
We hope that this new University Senate newsletter will not suffer a similar fate and that the faculty will read it. To help make the newsletter something that faculty will read, the newsletter is designed to be space and time efficient and contain important information. The University Senate electronic newsletter will have an abbreviated format, similar to the electronic headline services used by The New York Times and our own University Times. The e-mailed newsletter will include simple descriptor sentences and a hyperlink to the full story or additional information. That way faculty members can quickly browse the page to ascertain if any of the activities or information is relevant to them. Also included on the page will be hyperlinks to the University Senate web page and its related pages.
Jinx Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development; members of her staff; the University Senate computer usage committee, co-chaired by professor John Close; University Senate President Irene Frieze, and Vice President Michael R. Pinsky coordinated the development of this process with support from the Provost’s office.
Nowhere else at the University is there a single voice representing the faculty on issues such as benefits, academic freedom and related issues.
What will this new newsletter mean to you? It will be the first time ever that the University Senate will be able to communicate with all Pitt faculty on a timely basis. We now can inform faculty of active issues in the University Senate, most of which will be of direct interest to all faculty. For some, it may be the first time they realize that there is a University Senate; for others, it may be the first time they understand exactly what the Senate does and how it directly affects them. We also hope to have on-line elections of officers, allowing a greater degree of faculty involvement and speeding up the ballot-counting process. Electronic ballots could include descriptions of the candidates, similar to what is now sent out by mail, as well as photos. While each voter will need to log on and pass security, voting will continue to be anonymous. On-line voting now is commonplace for many organizations and professional societies.
For those faculty who do not wish to receive yet another bulk e-mail, there will be a clear link to unsubscribe, making the user list better reflect those with an interest in University Senate activities.
Importantly, the electronic mailing list also is structured in such a way that it is impossible for any recipient to reply to the entire list. Thus, comments to the Senate office will not be possible from this e-mail, but an appropriate e-mail response address will be available on the newsletter web page for comments. It is the hope of the University Senate executive committee that this new level of communication will make faculty more aware of the process of shared governance between the faculty and the University Senate executive committee and hopefully join in the process.
Can you hear me now?
Michael R. Pinsky, a professor of critical care medicine, bioengineering and anesthesiology, is vice president of the University Senate.