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July 21, 2005

SAC at 35

You’re a Pitt staff member. Today, you’re arriving late to the office, but it’s okay because you have release time to attend a staff development workshop. You’ve already dropped the young ones off at the Pitt day care center. Your oldest child will be attending Pitt in the fall with tuition remitted. Your spouse has enrolled in a Pitt course at a 90 percent discount. The whole family enjoyed Pitt Kennywood Day.

You’re going to give blood at the next staff blood drive. You’re planning to attend the annual Wellness Fair. You’ve signed up for CPR training, which you read about in the SAC Tracks newsletter.

After 20 years on the job (you’ve transferred twice within the University), you’re thinking about retiring before age 62. You’ve checked the Staff Handbook to learn how to calculate the amount you will receive in “bought-back” accrued sick days. You’re also keeping an eye on those quarterly TIAA-CREF reports. You’re going to donate to the book fund for children of staff.

For your 20 years, you’ve been invited to the long-term staff recognition reception. You’re planning to nominate a co-worker for one of the two Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence for staff.

In all of the categories within this composite scenario, the Staff Association Council (SAC) played a role, sometimes advisory, sometimes leading the charge; sometimes behind-the-scenes, sometimes “in your face.” Sometimes the University granted their requests quickly; sometimes SAC lobbied for years before approvals came.

Some perennial SAC proposals, such as mandatory training for supervisors and bi-monthly paychecks, never were implemented.

SAC celebrated its 35th birthday last week at a luncheon combining its new member orientation with the recognition of former council officers.

Initially called the Staff Advisory Board (SAB), SAC was founded 35 years ago under then-Chancellor Wesley Posvar. Posvar established a University-wide affirmative action committee, which submitted its first action plan in 1970, recommending among other things “the creation of a staff group” to represent Pitt staff not covered by collective bargaining.

Following a maze of University approvals, SAB held elections, wrote bylaws and a code of ethics and began its role as the voice representing staff concerns in the arena of University governance.

“Overall, the biggest accomplishment of SAC is that staff are now participating in shared governance,” said SAC President Rich Colwell. “We have representatives on search committees, University committees, Senate Council — basically everywhere. We’ve come a long way.”

At the luncheon, Colwell introduced guest speaker Chancellor Mark Nordenberg as “our leader, and our friend.”

Nordenberg said, “By coincidence, this also is the year that brings my 35th wedding anniversary, so I have some sense of that particular span of time: how long it is, how many things can happen.”

The chancellor said staff are among the many people at the University who selflessly make contributions behind the scenes. “Pitt is an institution characterized, in the main, not only by high ambition, but also by shared commitments to civility, fairness and respect, values that sometimes appear to have been lost in other parts of 21st-century America. And it is an institution in which occasional examples of human frailty are dwarfed by ever-present reminders of the basic goodness of people.

“When I look out into this group, when I think of SAC and when I think of the staff of the University of Pittsburgh, I really do think of those qualities: talent and commitment and fairness and civility and courtesy — all of the things that go into making the basic quality of goodness.”

Those are qualities that fuel Pitt’s progress, define its institutional spirit and make it a better place, Nordenberg said. “So today I want to thank you not only for what you do, but also for being who you are. It really does make a difference. Happy 35th anniversary.”

—Peter Hart

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