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November 9, 2000


University Senate Matters

Nathan Hershey

The three University Senate officers, who constitute the Senate's executive committee, have called a special plenary session of the Senate, pursuant to Article VI, Section I of the Senate bylaws. The topic for this session is: "The Open University: Is Pitt Open Enough?" It is scheduled for 3 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2001, in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room. We have decided to hold this plenary session because a number of issues that are directly or indirectly before the Senate, or its constituent units, raise questions about the University's openness toward members of the University community. We do not offer our own definition of an open university. Most members of the University community have their own working understanding of the term and of what represents openness in the operation of an institution of higher education. Beyond that, we believe that there are certain attributes that nearly everyone would include within the definition of an open university.

Rather than inviting a speaker to give a presentation, and follow with a reactor panel, or selecting several individuals to give their views on the subject, we have decided to invite the entire University Senate membership to consider whether they wish to participate as speakers. University Senate members will be asked to submit a brief pr?cis, not to exceed 50 words, of the remarks they would make if they were given the opportunity to speak for 5-8 minutes at this plenary session. From among those submitting pr?cis, the Senate officers will select 8-12 Senate members to speak at the plenary session. In our selection process we will take into consideration the views put forth by each individual, and attempt to arrange for a variety of views to be represented. We may reserve at least one speaker slot for a member of the Senate's executive committee.

After the short presentations, which may focus on what constitutes an open university or on whether Pitt acts in conformity with some general understanding of an open university, along with examples or illustrations, the meeting will be open to comments and questions from the audience. Following the open comment and question period, we expect that the chancellor will offer his comments on what has preceded him, and give his own views. Finally, I will make a few concluding remarks.

I hope all members of the University Senate will begin thinking now about whether they would like to participate in this plenary session, take this opportunity to speak to an audience about they views on the subject, devote some time and effort to thought about what they might say, and prepare a pr?cis. Later this month, all University Senate members will receive a memorandum from the Senate officers specifically inviting Senate members to participate.

I do not recall that there has ever before been a University Senate program of this nature. Several people have urged that the University Senate or the Faculty Assembly devote some attention to "big picture" issues, without having to focus on a specific proposal about a policy to endorse or an action to recommend. In some of my reading in general periodicals, I have noted attention being given to what is perceived to be the changing nature of the university. No one should be surprised that universities, like other institutions, evolve. Nevertheless, sometimes the nature of the evolution, or the course that the evolution process is taking, sparks considerable concern. In any event, the Senate officers are now requesting Senate members to let us know what they would say if they had the opportunity to present their views on the open university at this special plenary session.


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