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April 25, 1996

Arts and Sciences restructure plans proposed

A provost-appointed committee has recommended overhauling Pitt's arts and sciences administration.

In its April 19 final report to Provost James Maher, the Ad Hoc Committee on Restructuring the Arts and Sciences recommends that:

* Lines of authority should be changed so that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) dean has clear, overall responsiblity for areas now administered independently by the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) dean and the dean of Graduate Studies.

* The FAS dean must receive more effective faculty counsel on a day-to-day basis.

* Teamwork, which the committee found to be lacking among the three deans, "has to be established as the norm." * Decision-making within the arts and sciences must be decentralized.

The provost's office mailed copies of the report to arts and sciences faculty this week. Faculty members have until May 15 to submit written comments to Maher. The provost said he will consider these comments before deciding how to reform the arts and sciences administration.

Currently, FAS Dean Peter Koehler is the top administrator to whom more than 40 arts and sciences departments and programs report. He is responsible for budget and personnel actions involving all faculty in those units.

CAS Dean Mary L. Briscoe and Dean of Graduate Studies Mary Lou Soffa are responsible for undergraduate and graduate programs, respectively, but neither has an independent budget or faculty. Both the CAS and Graduate Studies deans are appointed by the provost and consult with him and his staff. But both are officially responsible to the FAS dean.

"This arrangement has resulted in considerable confusion for constituencies both within and outside the University and an ambiguity of reporting obligations and responsibilities among the three deans," the committee wrote. "Perhaps in consequence, the three deans do not seem to work well together as a coordinated team. Moreover, in part because of their relative isolation from one another, there is insufficient consultation among the deans in planning and decision-making, and the process of decision-making is much too centralized and often very slow." The committee recommends three possible models to replace the current structure. In each, auxiliary deans and other senior administrators in the arts and sciences would report "directly and solely" to a top dean of arts and sciences.

In Model 1, the arts and sciences dean would oversee three subordinate deans (for undergraduate studies, faculty affairs, and graduate studies and research) and two directors (of affirmative action, and administration and finance).

The other two models would create a divisional structure. The committee wrote: "The major advantages of a separate divisional structure would be that the dean of each division would have a greater knowledge of the departments within that division. Smaller units also would facilitate quick response. We hope, however, to realize these [same] advantages by providing more faculty input into a restructured FAS and by giving substantial decision-making authority to auxiliary deans and department chairs." In Model 2, the dean would oversee the same three deans and two directors as in Model 1, plus a dean of humanities and a dean of sciences. Model 3 is identical to Model 2 except that it would feature three divisional deans (of humanities, of natural and life sciences, and of social and behavioral sciences) instead of two.

The committee rejected the idea of dividing the arts and sciences into autonomous schools or colleges, as was the case at Pitt in the early 1960s before the unified FAS was created. According to the committee, carving up FAS would reduce the influence of arts and sciences units within the University, cause unnecessary competition and duplication of services, and create problems for students wishing to change majors and transfer among the units.

Under all three models, the chief arts and sciences dean would work closely with auxiliary deans who would be faculty members. This would address what the committee called a "critical need" for more day-to-day consultation between the FAS dean and his faculty. "At present, all the associate deans in the FAS dean's office are senior staff members," the committee noted.

The committee called on the top arts and sciences dean to delegate more budgetary authority to subordinate deans and department chairpersons. "As FAS is presently organized, decision-making is too centralized," the committee wrote. "Too little authority for decisions with budgetary implications rests with [arts and sciences] senior administrators and department chairs, and far too many budgetary decisions can be made only by the FAS dean. As a consequence, the FAS dean's office is slow to respond to requests for information and decisions…Moreover, much of the FAS dean's time is absorbed by matters that could be delegated to others…" The committee warned that structural reforms alone cannot guarantee improvement of the arts and sciences administration. Ultimately, success will require teamwork among arts and sciences leaders as well as additional revenue to allow for a decentralization of decision-making, the committee concluded.

Provost Maher appointed the committee last fall, following announcements by CAS Dean Briscoe and Graduate Dean Soffa that they will resign Sept. 1 to return to teaching and research. Briscoe and Soffa say they reached their decisions independently. Maher took advantage of the timing of the resignations by commissioning an in-depth study of the arts and sciences administration. He appointed Beverly Harris-Schenz, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, to chair the 13-member committee. It included eight other appointed members (including administrative, faculty, staff and student representatives) and four professors elected by FAS faculty.

Briscoe called the com-mittee's comments and recommendations "fair" and "quite sensible." Of the three structures proposed by the committee, Briscoe said she preferred Model 1, the one without divisions. "There are some good arguments for having divisions," she said. "But based on a lot of conversations I've had on this subject with faculty members over the years, I get the sense that many faculty have a strong interest in interdisciplinary teaching and research. And they believe that a divisional structure would make interdisciplinary activity even more difficult than it already is." FAS Dean Koehler said he has a preference among the three models "but I would prefer to keep that opinion to myself for the time being. Right now, we're trying to get reaction from the faculty [to the report] and I don't think it would be fair to bias them by expressing my own view." Koehler called the report "a fair assessment of the situation and our current problems. I think the suggested changes would solve those problems." Currently, Koehler's job performance is being evaluated by a faculty-administrative group, under Pitt's two-year-old system of evaluating academic administrators. The group is expected to report its findings to Provost Maher any day now. "If the outcome of that review says that I don't have a mandate to be dean of FAS or dean of the arts and sciences, if that is what the title is changed to, then the administration ought to find someone else to do the job. I'm certainly not going to take on this type of challenge [restructuring the arts and sciences] without a mandate," Koehler said.

"This report [by the Ad Hoc Committee on Restructuring the Arts and Sciences] does not make me want to make changes in my career plans. However, the evaluation might make the provost want me to make changes in my career plans, in which case he would not have to wait very long to get my resignation if he ever wants it." Graduate studies Dean Soffa was out of town and unavailable for comment.

–Bruce Steele

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