Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

October 24, 2013

Council split on fate of 3 grad programs

The University Council on Graduate Study (UCGS) was sharply divided in its vote on controversial Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences plans for graduate programs in classics, German and religious studies.

During a closed session on Oct. 15, UCGS, in a 15-12 vote with one abstention, endorsed the proposal to suspend admissions to the MA and PhD in classics programs.

However in separate 14-13 votes with one abstention, UCGS opposed the proposals to suspend admissions to the MA and PhD in German programs and to terminate MA and PhD in religious studies programs at the end of the 2022 academic year.

Among the council’s duties is to review, evaluate and make recommendations on graduate programs. The UCGS votes have been communicated to the provost, but no timetable for a decision has been set, said Ken Service, vice chancellor for University communications.

Service told the University Times: “Over the past several years, the University of Pittsburgh has faced a number of financial challenges, not the least of which has been a substantial reduction in support from the commonwealth. This has forced academic and administrative units throughout the University to examine areas of previous commitment and to consider difficult choices, including how best to allocate resources in support of academic programs.

“Decisions regarding the creation and termination of academic programs are among the most serious a university faces. At the University of Pittsburgh, these decisions are formed following the process of shared governance outlined in the University planning and budgeting system (PBS), ensuring broad input and thoughtful deliberation.

“Over the last 18 months, these processes have guided deliberations within the Dietrich school and continue to guide deliberations at the provost level. Last week, the University Council on Graduate Study completed its deliberations and will forward the proposals to the provost for her consideration.”

Linda Penkower, chair of the religious studies department, said she was encouraged by the UCGS vote. “It indicates serious consideration of these proposals.”


The Dietrich school’s plans for the three departments’ graduate programs came under scrutiny by the University Senate (see June 14, 2012, University Times) and the Pitt chapter of the American Association of University Professors amid criticism that the decision — initially to halt graduate admissions in the three departments (see April 19, 2012, University Times) — failed to follow PBS processes and lacked sufficient input from faculty. Provost Patricia E. Beeson disputed those assertions and stated that any proposal to close programs would undergo appropriate review in accord with academic planning and PBS guidelines. (See Letters, May 17, 2012, University Times.)

Following review within the Dietrich school, Dean N. John Cooper in June submitted proposals to the provost to suspend indefinitely the classics and German graduate programs and to terminate the graduate program in religious studies.

Those proposals were discussed in a Sept. 17 UCGS meeting at which the chairs of the affected departments and members of the graduate faculty were permitted to comment.

Faculty concerns

In addition to being concerned about the process, some members of the Dietrich school graduate faculty are worried about potential effects on graduate and undergraduate programs beyond the three departments, as well as on the University’s reputation and Pitt’s future ability to attract quality faculty members in the humanities.

A petition to the provost, launched earlier this month, drew more than 60 signatures from tenured graduate faculty in the Dietrich school and beyond. Organizer Marianne Novy of English (see Letters) said “a combination of factors” — citing flawed procedures and the use of inaccurate metrics in planning among them — have motivated faculty to express to the provost their discontent.

The BPC review and report

Following a review in closed session Oct. 18, the University Senate budget policies committee (BPC), which has responsibility for monitoring whether PBS processes are followed, issued a report that found no violation of PBS or academic planning guidelines.

BPC chair John J. Baker told the University Times that the report’s focus was narrow. It does not address the merit of the proposals, nor whether the procedures are optimal, only whether PBS procedural processes were followed, he said.

BPC’s Oct. 18 report reviews the process only through the Sept. 17 UCGS meeting and does not cover UCGS’s October meeting.

Baker did not say whether BPC would produce an additional report to review subsequent steps taken in deciding the three graduate programs’ fate, only that the committee reserves the right to make an additional report if necessary.

The BPC report stated that the Dietrich school deans’ lack of prior consultation with the affected departments and the relevant shared governance committees in their initial decision to suspend graduate admissions “was counter to the spirit of the planning and budget system” but that the appropriate bodies subsequently were consulted. The action did not violate Pitt’s 1995 Guidelines for the Review of Academic Planning Proposals  “because a temporary suspension of admissions is not the same as termination or substantial modification of a program,” the report stated.

“(BPC) finds no procedural fault with the process utilized by UCGS in reviewing the proposed suspensions/termination of the graduate programs in classics, German and religious studies through the Sept. 17, 2013, UCGS meeting.

“In conclusion, (BPC) believes that subsequent to the decision by the deans of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences to suspend admissions to the graduate programs in classics, German and religious studies, the processes used by the Dietrich school deans in preparing proposals to suspend the graduate programs in classics and German indefinitely, and to terminate the graduate program in religious studies, met the procedural requirements of the Dietrich school’s bylaws and the University’s Guidelines for Review of Academic Planning Proposals.  The review carried out by the provost’s office and UCGS adhered to acceptable shared governance standards and the planning and budgeting system,” the report stated.

The full report is posted under the “documents” tab on BPC’s committee page at

John Lyon, chair of the German department, continued to express his misgivings about whether proper procedures were followed in the Dietrich school.

“There may be reason to review Dietrich school bylaws,” he said, contending that the chairs’ submission of written proposals to the Dietrich school administration differed from being invited to make presentations before the Dietrich school committees and, so to speak, “stand before your accuser” before the dean’s proposals were made.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 5

Leave a Reply