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March 3, 2011

Pinsky seeks Senate re-evaluation of faculty roles

pinskyShould the University Senate re-evaluate the roles of faculty as educators and role models, given the evolving needs of students?

What defines the role of a faculty member and the faculty-student interaction in the new information age?

These were questions broached by University Senate President Michael Pinsky at the Feb. 22 Faculty Assembly meeting.

“The world has changed and it’s our responsibility to be aware of that. Students’ and parents’ expectations have changed,” Pinsky said.

“All our students use computers and the Internet has led to poorly validated research. The employment environment is completely different than students’ predecessors [faced] just 20 years ago. Are we preparing the workers for this new age? Are we using the right tools and metrics?”

Clearly those questions will have different answers at different schools and in different departments, he said.

“Before forming an ad hoc committee to address these issues, I invited the provost to have a discussion on this,” Pinsky said. “She felt that to a certain extent these items were covered by the specific departments, in terms of their curriculum. I stressed this is not a concept of curriculum, this is the concept of: What is education?” he said.

“So I’d like to have members of the [Senate] educational policies committee, student affairs committee and tenure and academic freedom committee to meet to at least obliquely discuss this and if need be form an ad hoc committee, including the provost, to take these issues further,” Pinsky said.

He said those discussions should be held confidentially. “I don’t want an open discussion about it, because I don’t think that’s constructive,” Pinsky said.

Initially, those committee members should try to determine if Pitt is meeting its educational goals and whether students are competing effectively for jobs, he said.

“We all are educators and it’s important to us that our students do well, and so having input into that is very important. I don’t have an agenda here. I do not want to change what we’re doing, I want to see what we’re doing.”

Assembly member Kevin Kearns said, “I would encourage us to try to integrate this as much as possible with other ongoing activities. I understand that the Provost’s office is in the third or fourth year of a pretty intense effort to measure learning outcomes as opposed to student satisfaction. That’s been going on in several units. I hope we don’t reinvent the wheel with respect to those initiatives that are ongoing.”

Pinsky noted that Provost Patricia Beeson has agreed to report to Faculty Assembly later in the term on her office’s efforts to measure student outcomes.

“Once you have that information, what do you do with it?” Pinsky asked. “What I want is the University Senate and the faculty as a whole to be involved in the educational directions of the University, which seems to me a very reasonable goal. How we do that, I don’t care, but I do believe we should be part of the discussion,” he said.

“It is not clear to me what the role of the University should be for the various students. In the professional schools, maybe the measure is who gets jobs; in Arts and Sciences, maybe not. I’m not here to tell each school what their metrics should be. I would like the schools to define that,” Pinsky said.

“This is the perfect time for us to re-evaluate. It may well be that we are in fact doing things very well and don’t need to change a thing. But, in the spirit of shared governance, I do believe faculty should have a voice in looking into it in a proactive fashion. I want to know if we’re accomplishing the goals we think are appropriate and that our students and their parents think are appropriate.”

Following Pinsky’s report, Patricia Weiss, vice president of the Senate, introduced a motion resolving that Faculty Assembly first hear the provost’s report, and then either in a full session of the Assembly or in small groups put together questions relevant to the themes introduced by Pinsky for future discussion.

In other Assembly business:

• Linda Frank, secretary of the University Senate tenure and academic freedom committee, is chairing the group organizing the Senate’s spring plenary session, scheduled for noon-3 p.m. April 14 in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.

Frank reported that the topic of the plenary session is “Teaching Excellence as Criteria for Promotion and Tenure.”

The chancellor and provost will offer remarks at the session, Frank said. Panelists will be Provost Emeritus James V. Maher; Sharon Smith, president of Pitt-Greensburg, and Thomas Smitherman, an Assembly member from the School of Medicine.

Carey Balaban, chair of TAFC, will moderate the event.

The goals of the plenary session, Frank said, are:

—To discuss academic promotion in the context of the three-pronged mission of the University: teaching, research and public service;

—To identify models for integrating teaching excellence into faculty performance evaluations;

—To identify factors and criteria considered in weighing teaching excellence in faculty promotion and tenure, and

—To discuss the development of criteria that support and enhance teaching as one of the primary goals of the University.

Assembly member Beverly Gaddy of the Greensburg campus asked if there were ways to facilitate participation by regional campus faculty who may not be able to attend the event in person.

Suggestions from Assembly members included providing van service from the regional campuses to the plenary session and/or using web technology to post the session for live or future remote viewing.

• Pinsky reported that the Division of Student Affairs has established a Safe Zone, or Ally Network, which is a program designed to create a culture that is supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) persons on campus.

He said Student Affairs and the Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee, in conjunction with the Rainbow Alliance, is offering a training session on GLBT issues, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. March 25 in 548 William Pitt Union.

For more information, contact Tynetta Hall, 8-7831 or

• Assembly member Denise Chisholm, co-chair of the Senate community relations committee, invited members of the Pitt community to attend an Oakland planning event, 6-8 p.m. March 24 at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 419 S. Dithridge St.

The event, titled “Oakland 2025: Planning Oakland’s Future,” will be hosted by the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC).

Chisholm said the event will launch a dialogue among the stakeholders in Oakland’s neighborhood improvement efforts, with the goal of developing a planning document later this year.

For more information, contact OPDC at 412/621-7863 ext. 17 or visit

—Peter Hart

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