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November 9, 2000


Is this shared governance?

To the editor:

In the late 1980s, there was an effort to unionize faculty at Pitt. I opposed unionization, concurring with the court finding in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University that professors should be considered managerial employees because of their role in university governance. Today, I find the conviction that faculty have a meaningful role in shared governance eroding.

Recently, the University has been struggling with problems related to its information technology infrastructure. I looked back to the minutes of the last meetings of the executive committee on academic computing (ECAC) and its subcommittees. The last minutes (February 1999) of the software and network information working group (SNIWG) reported: "The Provost had urged the ECAC to adopt a more traditional advisory role and focus on long-term future planning issues rather than continue micromanagement activities." I am reminded that it was this view of faculty involvement in the governance of computing that caused me to resign my appointment to the ECAC and the chair of SNIWG. The ECAC has subsequently been disbanded and replaced with new faculty committees. In many ways, I was happy not to have to worry about these committees — the administration was committed to managing the infrastructure for me. However, it appears at this point that the advisory and oversight role of the active ECAC and its subcommittees may have been of more import than we thought.

Out of curiosity, I went to look at the minutes of the information technology steering committee, the Senate committee on computer usage and the Provost's committee on the University of Pittsburgh's presentation on the World Wide Web to see if the deliberations of these groups provided any insight into what was happening or how it had developed. The most recent minutes were from May 2000. This is not to suggest that these groups haven't met more recently. I can simply find no evidence of how the faculty are engaged at a policy or implementation level in the governance of this resource that is critical to our research, teaching and service missions. Private conversations with a couple faculty I would think might be involved in advising on IT issues only yielded a shrug of the shoulders. I have offered my assistance both in writing and orally with the only response being a thanks for sharing. It may be time for the administration to reconsider involving faculty more directly in the technical decisions and plans related to our information technology infrastructure. The IT plan developed to guide us over the coming years is less than adequate in several ways. Look at the plan again and ask how it addresses the evolution of wireless technologies, the use of handheld and embedded devices, the future of e-business for the University's front and back end operations. It is weak both in terms of strategic vision and in terms of technical understanding of what would happen with multimedia mail, Napster, personal server functions, security intrusions, and mission critical software reliability, testing and scalability.

As another example, let me turn to the Senate plant utilization and planning committee (PUP), which I co-chaired over the last few years. This is a Senate committee that had a historically strong role working with the administration — specifically related to the facilities master plan for the University. Reflecting on the difficulty in providing input on such new projects as Bouquet Gardens, MPAC and the Petersen Center, we wrote to the chancellor asking for help in defining an appropriate role. In that letter, we complimented the chancellor and provost on their accomplishments related to the physical plant and shared with them our concerns about finding an appropriate role for the faculty in the process. The committee was informed that the matter would be discussed. A year later, still waiting, we asked again. We discussed our views with Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran. In a pleasant exchange, he indicated that his job was to carry out plans defined by the provost and chancellor, with the advice of the faculty, and that he needed at times to do that privately. We empathized with the need to deal with certain matters confidentially, but emphasized that we felt it important that the faculty be appropriately engaged in shared governance. That was June 28. I have subsequently stepped down as co-chair of PUP although I continue as a member of the committee. From my personal vantage point, the faculty is no closer to a substantive relationship with the administration on planning for matters related to our physical space.

As we move forward into our third century as a University, I can't help but feel that collegial roles in governance related to the physical and electronic spaces we share are less than optimal. Shared governance does not in my mind equate with shared decision-making, but it does involve a level of collegial sharing and advising. Beyond the sense of empowerment and ownership that such engagement imparts to faculty, I can't help but feel that the diverse expertise of the faculty — urban planners, public administrators, information technologists, information system managers, telecommunications engineers, etc. — is being less than optimally engaged. Then again, maybe the future role for faculty is simply that of a hired hand, in which case, we need to rethink whether the Yeshiva decision still applies to us.

Michael B. Spring

Associate Professor

Department of Information Science and Telecommunications

School of Information Sciences

Provost James Maher responds:

In developing our strategic information technology plan, we relied heavily upon the expert advice of a number of our most knowledgeable faculty. The ITSC, which prepared the plan, included eight faculty members, representing a number of Senate and other committees, who participated significantly in the development of the plan. A key realization of the committee was that technology evolves too rapidly to attempt to define each area of potential development. The University therefore monitors closely all areas of advancing technologies, and consults on an ongoing basis, with faculty committees, such as the Council on Academic Computing (which was charged on Oct. 2 to address most of Professor Spring's example topics) and the Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence, to ensure that we are exploring and supporting all evolving technologies. In addition, we keep in close contact with peer institutions through our key participation in the LIC, Educause and the AAU to stay current with best practices in these areas.

The Senate plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee has made extremely valuable contributions. Its role in developing both the master plan and the facilities plan was significant. These plans are now being implemented, and PUP is being kept fully informed of the details. PUP is playing an increasingly larger role in assessing the quality of classrooms, and the chair of PUP now serves as a member of the classroom management committee, which recommends classroom renovation priorities and largely determines the instructional environment.

Faculty participation has been invaluable to our ability to move forward in the multiple ways that we have. That role continues to be strong and effective.


Committee provides info on budgeting system process

To the editor:

The University of Pittsburgh Budgeting System (PBS) is now in its ninth year of operation. The system is designed to offer faculty and staff the opportunity to participate in the process through the planning and budgeting committees (PBCs) of their units. The Senate budget policies committee (SBPC) wishes to call attention to the collegial and participatory intention of the PBS process. The PBS document (available at explicitly states: "Planning and budgeting decisions are legitimate only if they are both based on full information and arrived at through an open, formal process." Under the PBS our committee "is responsible for reviewing whether the PBS procedures are followed and whether all constituencies involved are provided adequate opportunities to participate in the process and to be informed of its outcomes."

The Senate budget policies committee is available to help in PBS implementation and to provide information. We are particularly interested in hearing from faculty and staff who can provide specific examples of how/where the PBS process is NOT being carried out in their unit. Any member of the University community who has questions or concerns may contact either Phil Wion, chair of SBPC (624-6534, e-mail, 509J Cathedral of Learning) or me (e-mail, 5S15 Posvar Hall).

Thomas G. Zullo


Process Review Subcommittee

Senate Budget Policies Committee  


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