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January 11, 2018

Senate Matters

The Value of Service in Shared Governance

Faculty everywhere are generally evaluated on three to five specific criteria, including:

  1. research;
  2. teaching;
  3. clinical activities, if applicable;
  4. administrative activities, if applicable; and
  5. service.

As you read that list, can you hear the de-emphasis on the word “service”? Something like “Criteria A, B, C, D, and — oh yeah, we’re supposed to write something down for service.” This lack of emphasis on service is probably true regardless of your position, department and school; almost universally, service is perceived as a much lesser consideration for promotion or tenure. Given that — and the great demands on our time — many faculty will argue, “I don’t have time for service on faculty governance.”

So why should we focus our attention on service in shared governance specifically, and professional service more generally?

From Doug Landsittel:

The first issue to acknowledge is that faculty (and staff and students) who participate in shared governance are not typically the ones who have the most available time; in fact, the opposite may be true. Rather, they are the members of the University who feel most compelled to contribute to some area of decision making. For instance, volunteering to run for a position on a Senate committee was not something required of me nor did it highly impact my position from the department’s perspective. Instead, an opening on the Senate educational policies committee (EPC) represented opportunities to share my experiences (which I felt passionately about) from many other curriculum, admission and program committees with a larger audience across the University and to learn from the experience and knowledge of others in other departments and schools.

The resulting experience has more than fulfilled those aspirations of both sharing my experiences and gaining from the expertise and perspectives of others. Each meeting of EPC has yielded new insights into the process of education across diverse schools and departments; the policies that are necessary to keep that process moving forward; the challenges to implementing those necessary policies; and the approaches that faculty, staff and students (at all levels) are taking to overcome those challenges. Many of these issues represent highly visible and impactful challenges, such as needing to improve ways that we measure and interpret teaching evaluations and how to balance between avoiding misinterpretation of those evaluations on one hand, versus providing some transparency to students on the other hand.

The work of the committee has been aided by active participation from the vice provosts for undergraduate and graduate education and members of the committee have benefited from insight the vice provosts bring. We have interacted with the Faculty Assembly, an ad hoc committee and other representatives from the provost’s office. Serving on the EPC has essentially provided a unique front-row seat from which to listen and contribute to some of the most important discussions across the University. These experiences have significantly shaped my view of the educational process with insights I could never have gained form outside of the EPC and Faculty Assembly.

From Lorraine Denman:

For non-tenure stream (NTS) faculty like me, the role of service in our professional realm is unclear. Many NTS faculty focus mostly on teaching, and service might not seem as relevant or as essential as other elements of their work. I find the opposite to be true.

Serving on the ad hoc committee for NTS and part-time faculty issues has given me the opportunity to learn about the many roles, duties and concerns of NTS and part-time (PT) faculty. It also has shown me how I can be a more effective member of my department and school. I have found that I can provide valuable insight from my own experiences and from those of my colleagues. As a former part-time instructor, I know the indispensable roles that these educators have at Pitt and I want to ensure that their efforts and talents are recognized.  It is essential that part-time instructors are supported as pedagogues, and I am proud of the work that the ad-hoc committee on NTS/PT issues has done on this so far.

But there is still much work to do. As secretary of the recently formed faculty affairs committee, I hope to work with my colleagues to learn more about the ways in which faculty of all ranks interact with the administrative structures of the University and look at how these relationships can be more efficacious and equitable for everyone. If I had never decided to serve on these committees, I would have missed out on all of these opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, I would have not met the many wonderful colleagues who are dedicated to excellence and the overall success of the University.

In summary, while service in shared governance (as well as other types professional service) can be time consuming, that service will give back exponentially more than the time you contribute to it. It will provide you unique perspectives on your role in the University, how others across the University are working toward the same goals and how the sum of these parts is greater than the individual contributions.


Doug Landsittel is a professor of biomedical informatics and chair of the Senate educational policies committee.

Lorraine Denman is a lecturer and the Italian Language Program coordinator in the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures and the secretary of the Senate faculty affairs committee.


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