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May 11, 2017

University Senate Matters

Recounting the Minutes

In the words of P.K. Shaw, “A meeting consists of a group of people who have little to say – until after the meeting.” Part of these words does not always ring true for our University of Pittsburgh Faculty Assembly and Senate members – we are a group with much to say, but I have learned that what does ring very true in this phrase is that the “after [and during] the meeting” documentation of minutes is a critical piece of Senate function.

In looking back at my three years as senate secretary, I can say that it has been a journey of discovery, making connections and chronicling shared governance. Many of my experiences in pharmacy have been in leadership and management, particularly within the hospital and health-system environment. As a clinical faculty member, University shared governance piqued my interest for quite some time. After serving on Faculty Assembly, Senate Council, Senate committees and ad hoc workgroups for roughly a decade, I was fortunate to be elected to serve as senate secretary in 2014.

My first meeting as secretary was in September of 2014, which was the first full month with the forward-thinking leadership of Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. President Michael Spring and past-presidents Thomas Smitherman and Irene Frieze offered great advice on navigating the Senate and its functions. Prior secretary Linda Frank offered ideas for being prepared for the meetings, and before I knew it, it was 3 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2014: kick-off time for the September Faculty Assembly meeting. The meeting was full of content from the tenure and academic freedom committee related to salary of tenured faculty and intellectual property rights, and my official first set of minutes ended up being 18 pages long. The accompanying Senate Council meeting minutes the next week were 20 pages long. I knew then that this role as secretary would be quite a journey.

Since that time, topics that the Senate has taken on have included Senate committee restructuring, single sign-on access, international travel, non-tenure stream (NTS) faculty, consensual relationships, Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching (OMET) survey use and University core values. Each of these topics was timely, challenging and sparked much discussion. Discussions were charged, resolutions passed, some were deferred, many were revised, and, in the end, each time the Senate came through with a better document. President Frank Wilson often says that these rigorous discussions are the true picture of “shared governance,” and that these types of substantive discussions are essential. Recording the detail of these discussions is an important role in preserving history and the interactive environment here at the University of Pittsburgh. Participating in the Senate as a member, and as an Executive Committee officer for the last three years, I believe the liveliness of the Senate is something we should all work to preserve.

Service in the Faculty Assembly, Senate Council, Senate committees, or ad hoc working groups is a choice. There is rigorous open discussion and ideas, and there also are formal timelines, procedures and bylaws. In having the opportunity to serve, especially as secretary for the last three years, my advice is this: For new faculty who want to learn the inner-workings of the University and its committees, and for experienced faculty who want to contribute their ideas and help facilitate change, the Senate is a true learning experience. The interactions with faculty, staff, administration and student leaders give perspective on our University, and on issues facing academic institutions across the country, that otherwise you might not be able to see as clearly. Active participation allows you to see that your unit, school or department is part of a much larger machine. Understanding the differences, and appreciating the similarities, is both intriguing and rewarding. It is being part of a change (and also, in my case, recording it), such as non-tenure-stream (NTS) faculty recognition, development of the new research committee or promoting diversity and inclusion. A colleague of mine once told me, “If change is coming, you need to get on the group that is making the changes, or the change will go right by.”

Very true. Yes…Senate matters.

Sue Skledar is Senate secretary and a professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics in the School of Pharmacy.


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