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October 15, 2015

Senate Matters: What I know

My guess is many of the people who know me, when they first saw the headline, had to think… Lori is going to write a very short column. I won’t name names, but you know who you are.

I have been director of the University Senate office since 2006. Over the years I have been asked to write a Senate Matters column but always declined. But as I’m approaching a decade of service, I thought I would take this opportunity to offer my perspective on dealing with the Senate. I have had the privilege of working with amazing faculty and administrators as well as getting a true sense of how the University functions and operates. The myriad details and fact-gathering that are necessary to make policy, change an existing policy or just make a recommendation are extensive. I know we often wish things moved forward faster, but when you understand all that happens behind the scenes, you sometimes think it’s really not moving all that slowly. Although not all sides always agree, I have learned that moving Pitt forward is at the forefront of everyone’s ideas/actions.

The Senate does not have a large following. Only about 10 percent of the faculty vote in annual elections and the percentage who actually participate in the Senate is even smaller. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I realize everyone is busy and faculty members have their own teaching/research agendas, but good things happen when you work together and participate in shared governance. Here are some examples of issues the Senate tackled over the years: same-sex benefits; designation of campus lactation rooms; extending the time it takes clinical faculty in the School of Medicine to earn tenure from seven years to 10; amending the Planning and Budgeting System document; inadequate faculty salaries; intellectual property rights; recycling. The list could go on and on.

The Senate is here for shared governance. The Senate is your voice to express your thoughts and concerns. Senate representatives serve on many important committees on this campus:

• Two faculty members serve on each Board of Trustees committee.

• Five faculty serve on the University Review Board.

• Three Senate representatives are appointed to the University planning and budget committee (UPBC). In addition, the chairs of several Senate committees and the Senate president also serve on UPBC.

• The Senate makes appointments to the University’s conflict of interest committee and the University Research Council.

• The Senate appoints representatives to many other committees, as requested by the Office of the Provost.

Now is the time for you to get involved, participate and make a difference. Under new leadership, the University has initiated a strategic planning process. The academic landscape is changing around us. Issues the University is grappling with include the role of big data, commercialization, academic freedom and sexual violence on campus. All of these issues are profound and have an impact on all of us as well as on the University.

As faculty, what can you do?

• Get involved. Check out the Senate website, The website includes meeting information and minutes, but also lists policies that affect faculty, initiatives and often a topic on which faculty input is needed.

• Nominate yourself or a colleague to run for Faculty Assembly and/or a Senate committee in the annual elections.

• Attend the Senate’s plenary session on March 30, 2016. The topic is timely and one that is important to us all: academic freedom.

Participating in the Senate can involve as little or as much time as you like, ranging from attending one meeting a month to the more time-consuming task of serving as an officer. Whatever your contribution, service to the Senate benefits the University community.

Lori Molinaro is the University Senate director. She can be reached at 1234 Cathedral of Learning, 4-6505 or

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