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November 11, 2004

Faculty Assembly Urges Support for Transit Funding

Faculty Assembly is urging faculty to contact their legislators in support of legislation to provide a dedicated funding stream for public transportation.

At Monday’s Senate Council meeting, the resolution garnered endorsements from student and staff groups, including the Staff Association Council (SAC).

The Port Authority of Allegheny County, which provides more than 40 million rides annually, is facing a $30 million operational shortfall this fiscal year. The transit company is required by law to balance its budget and has threatened, beginning early in 2005, to raise base fares and make drastic cuts in service, including eliminating Sunday and all post-9 p.m. buses to counteract the fiscal shortfall.

Two identical bills, Senate Bill 1162 and House Bill 2697, propose eliminating the current $75 million statewide cap on revenue dedicated to transit and permanently directing 3.21 percent of the Pennsylvania sales tax to statewide transit needs. The Port Authority’s cut of that would be about $62 million, enough to cover its current shortfall and make needed improvements in service and equipment, according to the transit company’s web site.

Legislators are expected to vote on the bills later this month. The Faculty Assembly resolution, approved unanimously at the Nov. 2 meeting, was proposed by the Senate’s community relations committee. (See Oct. 14 University Times.)

Pitt has a three-year contract running until July 31, 2007, that allows Pitt I.D. holders to ride Port Authority vehicles for free.

But community relations committee chair Linda Hartman told the University Times that cuts in Port Authority services would affect adversely the entire University community.

For contact information on legislators, Hartman said, “Go to the state web site: There is a link to ‘Contact Your Legislators.'”

She said sample letters and pre-printed postcards to aid petitioners are available at the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, 710 Alumni Hall.

At the Nov. 8 Senate Council meeting, SAC President Rich Colwell reported that SAC endorsed the resolution and urged all members of the University community to join the letter-writing campaign in support of the transit funding stream.


Also at the Nov. 1 Assembly, John Close, chair of the Senate computer usage committee, reported on an evolving policy to generate automatic replies to e-mails directed toward deceased faculty’s e-mail accounts.

(Close acknowledged that his committee has had no discussion of what happens in this context when staff members die.)

According to Close, Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) will set up the auto-replies to direct correspondence following notification from a department regarding a faculty member’s death.

Close said the auto-message will read: “This e-mail account is no longer active. If your message is a personal matter, correspondence can be directed to [e-mail address/phone number]. If this is a University-related matter, please contact [e-mail address/phone number].” It will be the onus of the deceased faculty member’s home department to alert CSSD of the death and to provide the forwarding information, Close said.

He said the Office of General Counsel will not allow access to a deceased faculty member’s e-mail account, even by relatives of the deceased or departmental colleagues, because information on students, protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act., might be retained on stored messages.

Once it is finalized, Close said the policy will be sent to deans, directors and department chairs, but Assembly members urged more widespread dissemination of the information.

Senate President Nicholas Bircher asked if CSSD or General Counsel could send a memo to all faculty about the policy. Others suggested covering the policy at new faculty orientation and updating the Faculty Handbook.

Herbert Chesler, co-chair of the Senate benefits and welfare committee, said family members of a deceased faculty member also should be notified of a terminated e-mail account. He said the benefits and welfare committee is working with Human Resources to develop a “death checklist” of what HR should do following the death of a faculty member.

“We’re also working on a retirement checklist with Human Resources,” spelling out benefits information for survivors, Chesler said.

Close also reported on policies regarding the privacy of office e-mail accounts. He said that Jinx Walton, director of CSSD, had assured his committee that University policy prohibits the access of e-mail accounts by anyone other than the account holder.

There is legal precedent for reading an employee’s e-mail, Close said, but Pitt does not allow it “in the spirit of academic freedom and collegiality.”

However, Walton told the computer usage committee that local office e-mail servers are not the purview of CSSD, and therefore could be accessed by an administrator. The bottom line, according to Close, is that employees should not use Pitt e-mail accounts for personal business.

Close also reported:

* CSSD is investigating the purchase of spyware programs.

* CSSD also is planning an upgrade of the University’s IMAP server, but is looking for the least disruptive time to deactivate the service for the upgrade, which likely will be over the holiday break.

* The computer usage committee voted to deny a University Times request to be allowed to send a reporter to regular committee meetings. Close said, “We felt the press inhibits frank discussion, and the committee often hears reports on initiatives of CSSD that are not ready for public consumption.”

In other Faculty Assembly developments:

* Thomas Metzger, chair of the Senate’s educational policies committee, reported that EPC, in conjunction with the Senate’s anti-discriminatory policies committee, will examine recommendations from two documents as they apply to the Pittsburgh campus.

The documents are the 2001 “Campus Climate Survey,” which was published by Pitt’s women’s studies program, and “Campus Climate” by Susan Rankin, which is a report of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued in 2003. The two Senate committees will report on the documents to Faculty Assembly at a later date.

* Metzger also reported his committee’s preliminary investigation of individual schools’ policies on student cheating. He said that the Office of Provost has a web site ( ) with detailed recommendations on academic integrity and cheating.

Metzger said his committee will continue to look into whether cheating policies vary by unit and report at a future Faculty Assembly.

* Assembly members agreed to discuss at the Nov. 30 Assembly the possibility of resurrecting the faculty club.

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 6

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