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May 29, 2003


The eight-year period during which I have served as vice president, president and immediate past president of the University Senate will soon be over. During that time I have been heavily involved with the structures that make up the University Senate, with the individuals, primarily faculty, who serve in the Faculty Assembly and the Senate Council and on Senate committees, and I’ve had considerable interaction with both administrators and some faculty members who believed that, by virtue of my Senate position, I might be able to assist them in resolving certain problems.

I have chosen to use this space to discuss several Senate-related matters. The first concerns Senate committees. Some committees, because of their subject area or their leadership, are more active and involved than other committees. In some committees, particularly those that deal with subjects that draw substantial interest, there is a tendency for members who have completed the limit of six consecutive years of membership on the committee to remain in the capacity of pro tem (non-voting) member. At the first opportunity, these faculty members again seek election, and then return as regular committee members. Some committee chairpersons have remained as committee chairpersons for long periods, except for one-year breaks due to the limit on consecutive years of committee service. Much can be gained from experienced committee leadership. Benefits also accrue from new committee members being made increasingly familiar with the committee’s role and functions, and being groomed for leadership, rather than being allowed to remain relatively passive observers of the veteran leadership. The Senate bylaws and procedures committee might consider eliciting some views regarding whether some changes in committee operation and selection might be achieved. Incidentally, that committee has been led well since I became seriously active in the Senate and changes in its leadership over time have not brought about any diminution in the quality of its performance.

As a Senate officer and as a member of Senate Council for several terms prior to holding a Senate office, I have had the opportunity to observe the performance of the student leadership serving on the Council. While I could not gauge their overall performance as student leaders, I found that their performance at Council meetings, with rare exception, was of very high quality. Unfortunately, on only rare occasions has student leadership entered into the discussions of issues about which there was a degree of conflict, often between administration and faculty. I, for one, would like to have seen student Council members more involved, although it well may be that student leaders are not concerned with many of the issues about which faculty and administration contend. It would have been interesting to hear student leaders comment on faculty and staff salary increases, given the connection between such increases and tuition increases. Perhaps student leaders believe they have better ways to express student views than speaking at Senate Council meetings. They may prefer to use their own meetings — Student Government Board for example, or the pages of the Pitt News, or meetings with the chancellor or other administrators, as vehicles for presenting their opinions on such issues.

Senate Council meetings, in total, consume about 18 hours per year. Adding the time that each Pittsburgh campus faculty member needs to spend in transit to and from the meeting site, approximately three or four additional hours yearly, and to read minutes of meetings, and the agendas and attachments to them for the various meetings, about three hours annually, and the total of direct time commitment for Senate Council membership amounts to between two and three hours per month. Of course, some Council members speak with their academic units’ faculty to improve their understanding of subjects that may come before them at the Senate Council, to inform their constituents about some issues and to solicit their opinions on them as well. Note the relatively modest time commitment required of Senate Council members.

Even with the limited time a faculty member needs to allot, unfortunately, discussion at some meetings has demonstrated that some Council members, while present, have not done sufficient preparation to become useful participants. One might argue that it is necessary also to recognize the time commitment for service on Faculty Assembly, in that two-thirds of the Faculty Assembly membership also serves on Senate Council. Still, even with doubling the amount of time necessary for attendance and related duties, the time commitment isn’t very great.

Some subjects before Faculty Assembly or Senate Council require familiarity with a University policy or procedure, Senate bylaws or some other relevant document. These are usually available through the Senate office, if not furnished with the meeting agenda. The Senate director is always willing to help meet a faculty member’s information need.

My concern about adequate preparation also applies to the functioning of Senate committees. Here also relevant review of a University policy or procedure, and materials sent prior to a committee meeting, may be critical to useful discussion of a particular subject.

Faculty members are usually annoyed or disturbed when students attend class without proper preparation. I see no reason to set a lower standard for preparation when faculty members are to attend a Senate committee, Senate Council or Faculty Assembly meeting. Just as one might view a student’s failure to be prepared as disrespectful to both the faculty member and fellow students, one might also view as disrespectful to colleagues, attendance and participation in Senate entity meetings without necessary preparation.

Administrators in attendance at Senate Council meetings, administration representatives serving as liaison persons to Senate committees, and administrators who attend Faculty Assembly meetings sometimes participate in these meetings. Usually they are well-prepared on the subjects that they address or are asked to comment upon and, at times, the contrast with faculty is embarrassing. In short, faculty who decide to get involved in Senate processes should be prepared to make the requisite commitment of energy and time. At the minimum, service with the Senate provides an opportunity to learn about the University and its governance, in which all faculty have a large stake. That opportunity should not be wasted by lack of commitment.

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