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November 22, 2000

Clarification sought on policy allowing faculty to reduce workload to halftime

Pitt fulltime faculty members may voluntarily reduce their workloads to halftime (with a corresponding pay reduction), under certain conditions.

To clarify what those conditions are and how the policy is being followed across the University, a faculty committee is scheduled to meet with Provost James Maher today.

"This issue has been a matter of concern to us for several years," said economics professor Herbert Chesler, who co-chairs the University Senate's benefits and welfare committee.

Chesler said his committee is concerned that various schools and departments interpret the policy differently, and that some units deny their faculty the fulltime-to-halftime option.

Typically, fulltime professors move to halftime status for two or three years as a bridge to retirement — although illness or a temporary change in the faculty member's professional or family life also could be grounds for such a move, Provost Maher told Senate Council on Nov. 13.

In an average year, 6-7 faculty members make the transition, he estimated.

Maher said he approves such moves only when:

* Faculty members request them. "It's not the dean or chair's place to raise the issue," the provost said.

* The change benefits both Pitt and the faculty member. Deans and department chairpersons must assure the Provost's office that their units can accommodate the faculty member's move to halftime status. Depending on a professor's area of expertise and the size of his or her department, losing half a faculty position can threaten the unit's ability to offer required courses, Maher said.

* The faculty member works halftime for no longer than 2-3 years before retiring or resuming fulltime status.

Psychology professor James Holland, co-chair with Chesler of the Senate's benefits and welfare committee, told Senate Council he is happy with the fulltime-to-halftime deal he's worked out with his department chairperson. Holland will reduce his workload to halftime in January and retire midway through the year 2003.

"I almost pulled out of it, though, when I got this," Holland said, waving a contract that Pitt required him to sign.

Under the contract, Holland agreed (among other things) not to sue the University, its trustees, officers, et al, to regain his fulltime status or renege on his agreement to surrender his tenure upon retirement. The contract also required Holland to state that he had "fully consulted" with an attorney before signing the document. Just to move the agreement along, Holland said, he signed the document even though he's never had an attorney and didn't consult with one in this case.

Holland called the contract insulting and even, in places, threatening. "This — I don't know what other language to use — pissed me off," Holland said. "I'm really furious with the University, that it would set up an adversarial relationship between me and them" after Holland had amicably reached an agreement with his department chairperson and dean.

Provost Maher and other senior administrators at last week's Senate Council meeting told Holland they understood his anger and sympathized with him. But under current employment law and in these litigious times, they said, detailed waivers protect Pitt against possible lawsuits by professors seeking to back out of agreements to surrender faculty rights and privileges.

"If I had decided to retire fully," Holland said, "would I have had to sign a release like this?"

"No," Pitt General Counsel Alan Garfinkel answered.

University Senate President Nathan Hershey, a health law professor, said Holland's contract "doesn't strike me as being distinctive in the world of employment law in the year 2000. Some of the language, if it's not mandated by law, is mandated by sound practice."

Holland retorted: "It's not sound practice to cast the faculty and the administration in adversarial roles. Sound practice? Not to a psychologist, it's not. Maybe to an attorney it is."

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 7

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