Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 29, 1996

Ad hoc committee considering various ways to restructure arts and sciences administration here

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Restructuring the Arts and Sciences say they haven't decided which plan they will recommend for restructuring Pitt's arts and sciences administration.

At the Feb. 27 Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) meeting, committee members said they may recommend to Provost James Maher that Pitt adopt a divisional structure, with separate deans for the humanities, the social sciences or other groupings of arts and sciences departments.

Or, committee members said, they may recommend a more unified structure, featuring a "super-dean" who would supervise a larger number of associate deans (but fewer staff personnel) than the FAS dean's office currently employs.

And the committee hasn't ruled out proposing the creation of new undergraduate and graduate colleges, each with substantial control over its own budget, said committee chairperson Beverly Harris-Schenz.

Whatever model they endorse, committee members agreed, there can be no doubt that Pitt's current arts and sciences structure — to borrow a Pittsburghism — needs fixed.

During the 90-minute meeting (which FAS Dean Peter Koehler diplomatically exited after making a few introductory announcements), committee members and professors in the audience criticized various aspects of the current arts and sciences structure, including the following: * Two of Pitt's three arts and sciences deans (the FAS graduate studies dean and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who is responsible for undergraduate programs) lack control over academic budgets and must defer to Koehler on most fiscal matters.

* The FAS dean, in turn, does not get to appoint his or her own deans. The CAS and graduate studies deans are hired and fired by the provost and chancellor. "Mary Lou Soffa [graduate studies dean] and [CAS Dean] Mary Briscoe don't interact with Peter Koehler," said ad hoc committee member Frank Giarratani. "They don't report to Peter Koehler or advise him." * Far too many requests and proposals from arts and sciences departments must be processed through the FAS dean's office. Giarratani, who chairs the economics department, argued that many of these issues could be settled by lower-level administrators. "From what I have seen, both as a department chairman and now as a member of this committee, it's appalling the number of questions that get put on Peter Koehler's desk," he said. "The status quo can't be maintained." Other faculty members characterized Koehler as being aloof and out-of-touch with some FAS departments. Theatre arts professor Attilio Favorini said the appointment of divisional deans would promote more interaction between deans and faculty, as well as a greater sense of loyalty among faculty toward the school. Other audience members agreed that few arts and sciences professors feel any loyalty toward FAS; rather, they identify with their departments.

Ad hoc committee chairperson Harris-Schenz cautioned that a rigid divisional structure would discourage interdisciplinary research.

Two statements that no one at the meeting disputed were that: * "There is no system we could recommend that is without its downside," as Harris-Schenz said.

* Any structure is bound to fail if the administrators hired to run it can't work well with faculty, and with one another, as several audience members said.

The ad hoc committee is composed of eight faculty members, two administrators, two students and one staff member — some elected, others appointed by Provost Maher. The provost formed the group last fall after CAS Dean Briscoe and FAS graduate studies Dean Soffa announced their resignations, effective July 1, to return to teaching and research. Rather than launch searches immediately for new deans, Maher took advantage of the vacancies to explore alternative administrative structures for the arts and sciences.

Maher originally gave the committee a March 1 deadline for reporting its recommendations to him. But the committee's work is taking longer than expected, and the provost has agreed to extend the deadline to April 1, said Harris-Schenz, who is vice provost for Faculty Affairs.

As part of its research, the committee is reviewing organizational charts of arts and sciences units at other universities and conducting telephone interviews with personnel at six comparable institutions: New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Washington. The committee chose those universities because their student enrollments are about the same size as Pitt's, and each institution has a medical school on its main campus.

The committee also is reviewing responses to questionnaires completed by 35 current and former Pitt arts and sciences deans, department chairs and program directors.

— Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply