Faculty Senate president wants to make sure anyone new to Pitt understands shared governance


University Senate President Chris Bonneau wants to focus on making an inclusive environment for Pitt faculty and staff and connecting with the University’s recent administrative hires.

Chris BonneauBonneau, an associate professor of Political Science, began his one-year term in July. His studies focus on American politics, specifically, judicial politics. He is also a co-founder of the Pitt Prison Education Project.

He’s also served on the Tenure and Academic Freedom committee since 2011 and co-chaired the Faculty Affairs committee.

The University Times sat down with Bonneau on the heels of the first Faculty Assembly meeting on Sept. 4 to talk about some of his goals for his tenure as president and more. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How’d the first faculty assembly meeting go?

I thought we had a really good discussion. Those issues that we discussed yesterday are two of the hot issues. Particularly the Intellectual Property policy, which is concerning for the faculty. And regardless of one’s views on the (Pitt Union of Faculty), the fact is that it’s something that a lot of faculty are interested in. And it’s something that I believe that any group or any individual who addresses the faculty assembly should be able to do so, and we will give them time. So, I think there were a lot of questions that were asked and, so I think in the end … people who attended, it was worth their while in terms of the information they got and their ability to interact and ask questions.

What are some of the main issues you are focusing on?

There are a lot of new transitions going on at Pitt. So, over the past four years, there are 13 new deans, plus a new provost, plus at least two vacancies now. So, there’s a lot of new faces on board, and there’s been a lot of changes as people retire and move onto other things. With that comes some growing pains, I think, particularly when we find some excellent people outside Pitt who don’t necessarily understand how our shared governance works, or how we do things at Pitt, and the … collaborative relationship that we have between the faculty and administration. You know I think a lot of it is going to be informational kinds of activities. Always budgets are an issue, with the appropriation of the commonwealth, particularly in an election year. So, this year, we did fine.

Next year, depending upon what happens, it could be a pretty hostile environment for higher education funding depending on the situation in Harrisburg. Some of Pitt’s largest reductions came under a Democratic governor. So, it’s not necessarily that one party is the cure-all for us. We always have to make our case. And so that, I think, is a long-term threat to our ability to offer a higher quality of education for our students.

What are some of your goals for this year, and how do you plan to accomplish them?

A lot of what we do, I think, is kind of a reactive component as well. For example, I didn’t plan to be spending the last month and a half on IP policy, but it happens. So, to some extent, one of our most important jobs is keeping the lines of communication open with the administration so that when things come up, we can work together effectively and efficiently to come to a solution.

In terms of specific goals, I would like Pitt to continue to make strides on the front of diversity and inclusion. Next month, at the Faculty Assembly meeting, I’m having Katie Pope from the Title IX office come and address Faculty Assembly. I think Chancellor Gallagher has made great strides in doing that and in his hiring of Ann Cudd is further confirmation of that — that this chancellor takes his issues seriously. He’s not just talking the talk, but he’s seriously interested in them.

In terms of a general goal, we want to continue to make Pitt for faculty a place that works for all of us, and that includes full-time/part-time, tenure-stream/non-tenure-stream and so anything we can do to insure that all our faculty are treated fairly and equitably, that benefits are extended to all of our faculty, that people are appropriately compensated for the work they do, not just research work or teaching work, but service work as well. All those kinds of things account for many of the issues that come up that we’re going to be focused on, and we’re going to be working with the administration to ensure that we continue to make Pitt a workplace that works for everybody.

What are some things you’re finding challenging about your new role? What are some things that you enjoy?

In terms of challenges, I think the fact that you spend time on things you don’t necessarily love spending time on. There are important issues that come up, so IP policy is a great example. I did not intend, nor do I enjoy spending time on that issue. It’s a really important issue. It’s really important for us to be involved. It would’ve been better had it been rolled out differently, but, as we said yesterday, it is what it is. We had to work hard, but we were able to get done what we needed to get done. So, you always need to be flexible and that’s challenging.

The other thing is there are a lot of faculty who have a lot of passionate positions on many sides of issues, and I fully understand both sides of these. So, trying to navigate a situation where we come to a resolution where people feel good about the outcome, is challenging.

What do I like most? You know I like seeing how the sausage gets made. Universities are kind of like a black box. Stuff comes in and stuff comes out, but you don’t really get to see what’s in the middle. Just as a political scientist, I enjoy seeing how individuals, and how institutions, arrive at decisions. What’s the political process — how it works? Who are the key actors? So, for me, it’s kind of a nice insight into the operations of the University.

And I also like being able to have a platform where I can advocate for people who don’t have a voice or who don’t have the protections. I mean, I’ve got tenure, I’ve had tenure for a long time, there’s not really much they can do and so, I think with that comes an obligation, and you know, I’ve always said what good is tenure if you’re not going to use it. And so, I think in this role, I have the opportunity to advance some issues and some causes that for people who have historically not had that kind of forum. So, I’m looking forward to that.

Who are some of those people, in your experience, who struggle to have their voices heard?

Well, I think certainly the part-time faculty, the adjunct faculty. These are people who you heard yesterday about their IDs expiring; they don’t have office space or things like that. So certainly, I think about people like that. Assistant professors who might be overburdened by service obligations or who are afraid to speak out about climates in their department and so on. So those kinds of issues.

You know, I’ve been on the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee since 2011. So, I’ve got some experience dealing with those kinds of issues. It was eye opening. We’ve been effective at changing the culture, in some cases, and trying to provide for due process rights for faculty in dealing with things such as promotion denials or salary denials, salary reductions and so on. In many ways, we really have to be vigilant, and not because I think members of the administration are necessarily bad actors. But sometimes they make decisions and then there are externalities that they don’t think about or that trickle down ...

The other thing I’d say that I’m looking forward to doing is, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to be travelling to all of the branch campuses as well. I want to talk to the faculty there and see what kind of issues they have on branch campuses that we might be able to help with. There we have issues that we might not even be aware of. ... And so there may be ways to build linkages between the branch campuses and us here at the Oakland campuses.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.