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March 31, 2016

Senate Matters: Why the Senate matters

I first became involved in Senate activities as a member of the Senate computer usage committee in 1984. I have been involved in Senate activities ever since, including as chair of the computer usage, library and plant utilization and planning committees. I also have served for nine years as an officer of the Senate, mostly as vice president. I have found these activities to be enormously rewarding.

The faculty (as well as the staff and students) who serve on Senate committees or on Faculty Assembly or Senate Council always are very interesting people who tend to have a broad understanding of what is happening not only in their own units, but also in the University as a whole. Getting to know them has been wonderful. I find I am always learning new things from them, and enjoy our conversations. Service in the Senate also has allowed me to get to know many of our administrators. I find that all of them are motivated not only to do their own jobs well, but also to improve the University. We may disagree on how this is best done, but we share very similar goals. The ability to get to know and to speak directly with the administrators who make things happen is one of the clear benefits of Senate service, especially as an officer or as a committee member.

In my various roles as an active member of the Senate, I also feel that I can have an impact on policy decisions of all kinds. We can make a difference! It can be simple things such as arguing many years ago, long before everyone used computers in their daily work, that all faculty needed to have access to these wonderful machines, and that we needed to be able to print out files of text, as well as data. (The view then was that computers were only relevant for people in the physical sciences and mathematics, and were needed only for data analysis.)

More recently, in 2006, I chaired a Senate ad hoc committee on recycling. We invited several key administrators to join us, and got people talking about the importance of recycling. As we discussed this, it was clear that we should be thinking more broadly about sustainability, and the concerns of this committee eventually were incorporated into the mission statement of the regular Senate plant utilization and planning committee. In addition, Facilities Management has taken on sustainability as one of its regular activities and publicly advertises all the many efforts now being made at Pitt. Although Facilities Management staff had been working on these issues earlier, they had not advertised these well. Now, we agree that these initiatives are important for us all. I like to think that the Senate had a major role in making this a more visible part of the Pitt community.

Currently, I am chairing a Senate ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream faculty. We are working to identify ways in which the lives of our important full- and part-time non-tenure-stream faculty can be enhanced. We are delighted to have the full support of the senior administration in making important concrete changes.

I urge you to consider running for a position on a Senate committee or for Faculty Assembly to represent your area to the broader University community. It is too late to get on the ballot for this year, but you can attend meetings of Faculty Assembly and participate in the discussion even if you are not a voting member. You might also ask to be appointed as a pro tem member of a Senate committee you find of interest.

Finally, PLEASE VOTE! Ballots for Senate officers and Faculty Assembly representatives will be available on April 5. The elections for committee members begin on April 27. The more of us who participate, the better we can represent the faculty at Pitt.

Irene H. Frieze is vice president of the Senate. She has served in this position during two time periods for a total of five years. She also has served as president one year, and as past-president for three years. She will retire from Pitt April 30, but hopes to continue her involvement in Senate activities.

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