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November 12, 2009

University Senate Matters


Most of the work of the University Senate is done in committees, and most of these committees focus on matters pertaining to the University community: budget policies, benefits and welfare, student affairs, educational policies, plant utilization and planning, etc. Future Senate Matters columns will feature reports and comments on the activities of these committees.

Two Senate committees, however, also are concerned with the University’s role in the larger society, especially in fostering good relations with the Pittsburgh community and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Over the past year, the community relations committee, co-chaired by Wes Rohrer and Denise Chisholm, has been focused on food. They have provided enthusiastic support for the Oakland Farmers’ Market, and have encouraged faculty and staff members to volunteer for food distribution at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. A bus full of volunteers even was assembled on Thursday afternoon during the G-20 meetings, despite traffic woes created by the attendant street closings. The world’s elite may have been dining in style at Phipps, but hungry people at the Duquesne distribution center still needed groceries. Plans also have been implemented for both actual and virtual food drives on the Oakland campus, including coordination with student government efforts to encourage the donation of unused Dining Dollars to the food drive.

A major new topic has been discussion of plans for the opening of a food pantry in South Oakland, at the former St. Hyacinth School. The current economic downturn has taken its toll on Oakland residents, including students, the elderly and families with children, and a local food distribution center is very much needed. During Pitt’s annual Day of Caring in September, volunteers from campus assisted in preparing the new facility, which should be opening soon; watch for details in a future Senate Matters column.

The commonwealth relations committee also is engaged in outreach through its efforts to improve communication with members of the state legislature. Committee members have joined other Pitt faculty, staff, students and alumni in a recent effort to contact individual legislators and urge them to vote on the still-pending appropriation for state-related universities.

This committee, co-chaired by Rodger Beatty and Debora Rougeux, also schedules regular luncheons with individual state legislators to hear their questions and concerns, and to give them a better sense of the interests and activities of Pitt’s faculty and staff. In late October the two co-chairs and I, along with Paul Supowitz from Pitt’s Governmental Relations office, drove to Pitt-Titusville to join with members of their faculty and administration for a lunch meeting with State Rep. Bradley Roae, who represents that district. A luncheon with Sen. Sean Logan is scheduled for Nov. 20 in Oakland.

These outreach committees try to foster personal relationships with state and local government officials, to learn about their perceptions of the University and to deal with any problems or conflicts that arise. As a political scientist, I have learned a great deal about the local and state policy process through these sessions, and have gained a better understanding of how the University’s concerns mesh (or conflict) with other policy and budgetary priorities. The policy tradeoffs may not always be pretty, or beneficial to the University, but the Senate’s outreach efforts make a real contribution to forging better relationships with our neighbors.

Susan B. Hansen

Vice President of the University Senate.

Previous Senate Matters columns in the University Times are available on the Senate web site,

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