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University of Pittsburgh

February 16, 2006

SENATE MATTERS

Over 200 years ago the small colonies in America formed a new government based on the principles of a government for the people and by the people. However, when it came time for our forefathers to define how the people would be represented, the solutions were not that simple. Pure liberals like John Adams felt that representation should be proportional to population, with the states with the most people having the greatest say. Others, however, felt that Alexis de Toqueville’s “ternary of the majority” would subjugate the interest of smaller states mainly in the South to the larger ones up North.

To resolve this issue, the Constitutional Congress decided to honor both positions, forming the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. That solution may work at a federal and even state level, but is far too unwieldy for smaller bodies like universities in general and our own University Senate in particular.

Several years ago, when the University Senate was formed into its present legislative shape, faculty representation was made along the lines proportional to the size of the existing schools. In essence, there was the massive School of Arts and Sciences, and then everyone else. To create parity in electing representatives to the University Senate, the University was divided into four major units that grouped smaller schools with vaguely similar interests into larger units. They are: School of Arts and Sciences, with its three divisions of humanities, natural sciences and social sciences represented equally; professional (non-Health Sciences) schools, which includes the University Library System; Health Sciences, which includes the Health Sciences Library System, and regional campuses.

The distribution of elected members was by popular vote within each unit or division of a unit, with Arts and Sciences having 15 seats; professional schools, 16; Health Sciences, 16, and regional campuses, 8. The original system also allowed individual units to increase their seats by one if they grew by more than 100 faculty. No provision was made to change the number of seats allocated to each unit if the University demographics changed drastically.

However, change is central to all dynamic systems, and our University has grown impressively over the past few years. Nowhere is this growth more tangible than in the School of Medicine, where the number of faculty has increased from about 1,000 two decades ago to more than 1,800 now. Importantly, the numbers of all other faculty across the University have remained relatively constant. The national and international success with which this growth was associated is a major source of pride for the University. However, the number of University Senate representatives from the Health Sciences has not changed, meaning that each Health Sciences member represents three more faculty than any other elected representative to the University Senate. How should this inequity be resolved?

The Senate bylaws and procedures committee has been asked to review and modify its current policy regarding the number of directly elected members of Faculty Assembly. At issue is the question of whether there should be more members from those divisions (units) that have a comparatively large number of faculty. This request was made by both the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee chair, Professor Carey Balaban, and Senate members from the School of Medicine who felt that because of the fixed number of Faculty Assembly seats allotted to them, the School of Medicine was markedly under-represented. The Senate bylaws and procedures committee, chaired by Professor Ted L. Rice, has addressed this issue on multiple occasions and found it difficult to come to a consensus regarding the “optimal” allocation strategy for voting members of the University Senate.

Now, however, the Senate bylaws and procedures committee has proposed the following solution: Specifically, that the School of Medicine should not be included in the Health Sciences unit, but be identified as a single, stand-alone unit. The proposed modification to the bylaws of the University Senate would ensure 11 School of Medicine representatives (currently, the entire Health Sciences unit has 14 positions, of which only three are filled by School of Medicine faculty). Although these changes would still result in a relative underrepresentation of the School of Medicine, it also would not overwhelm the other units whose dedication to shared governance can be measured in decades.

These proposed changes need to be discussed openly and debated. To address this issue, the Senate bylaws and procedures committee is canvassing the University faculty via a letter available on line through the Senate’s electronic newsletter and associated web page, to determine if the University faculty agree that there is a need to revise the current allocation strategy.

Your opinion on this matter is important. Let us know what you think. As listed in that notice, contact Fran Czak, director of the Office of the University Senate, to give her your opinion and suggestions. She can be reached at 624-6505; usenate@pitt.edu.

Shared governance in University policies and workings is an important responsibility of the faculty of the University. We need to share this responsibility equally.

Ted Rice & Michael Pinsky

Ted L. Rice is chair of the Senate bylaws and procedures committee. Michael R. Pinsky is vice president of the University Senate.


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