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February 8, 2001


Chancellor's staff award: What's the official name?

To the editor:

For the second year in a row, the University Times has gotten the name of the chancellor's award for staff wrong, in its article concerning the announcement of winners. According to a University web site which was on-line in December, the title of this award is:

Chancellor's Distinguished Service Award for Excellence for Staff Employees.

The Times each year has left out the words "Distinguished Service."

Why do I care? In past years our department tried several times to nominate people for what we thought was a staff award where excellence in job performance at the University would be the main criterion. We believed that this was implied by the original title, which was "Chancellor's Award for Excellence for Staff Employees," with no mention of service. It subsequently became clear that however well a staff member did his or her job, there was no chance of winning an award without a significant amount of public service outside of the University.

I wrote to the University Times about this and, subsequently in the fall of 1999, I sent an e-mail and wrote a letter to the chancellor, pointing out that the name of the award was misleading and led to fruitless efforts by faculty to secure this award for valued staff members. It also falsely raised the hope of the staff nominees that they might have a chance for such an award based simply on their work at Pitt, in parallel with similar faculty awards for teaching and research.

I was never favored with the courtesy of a reply, but mysteriously, when the award was announced in 1999, the word Service became part of the title, a subtlety which the University Times ignores each year. While I believe that excellence on the job here at Pitt has been an important factor in the award, the new title accurately reflects the significant role also played by outside service.

I hope that when next year's winners are announced the award is given its proper title by the University Times.

Stuart Hastings

Department of Mathematics

(Editor's note: The University Times was quoting from various award materials, which used the title inconsistently. According to a University spokesperson, the words "distinguished service" were added to the title of the award in the last two years, now making the name the Chancellor's Distinguished Service Award for Staff Employees.)


Uninspired by pay of top Pitt administrators

To the editor:

When I read about the large percentage raises our top administrators are getting and their over-impressive salaries (1/11/01), I am not inspired. So bonuses are out, but instead 22.6 percent raises (for the chancellor, last year's bonus "folded into their base salaries"), 13.2 percent for the controller, and a small raise to bring the Health Sciences senior vice chancellor to a mere $537,000.

Compare these superstars with faculty and ordinary staff "raises" — often not even compensation for inflation or increased medical insurance co-payments. Why is it that the higher-ups need the incentives of CEO-type salaries and raises? Mainline teaching and research are grunt work!

There is something gross about these half-million and quarter-million salaries, along with the claim that in order to get good leadership we must be competitive. This is a university, despite abolishing most of the dean titles for vice president of this and that. True, our top administrators are in line with American CEO-style pay, now many more multiples ahead of their average workers' pay than it once was. The average worker in America is stuck, like the faculty and staff here, watching the ascending star of the rewards for the luminaries.

Jim Scofield


Johnstown Campus


English profs support MLA proposal on faculty

To the editor:

As tenured faculty members in the Department of English, we would like to respond to your recent front-page article entitled "MLA recommendation on faculty termed unrealistic" (1/25/01). We are disturbed by the imbalance in this article's representation of a problematic development both at Pitt and at research universities across the country — namely, the unprecedented growth of part-time and non-tenure-stream faculty as a percentage of those teaching courses in the undergraduate curriculum. We feel that the article (and all but one of the administrators quoted) was dismissive of an important attempt by the Modern Language Association (MLA) to raise professional and public awareness of highly questionable staffing practices that have become standard in universities like ours.

The article repeatedly condemns as "unrealistic" the MLA recommendation that language departments staff at least half of their credits with tenured or tenure-track professors. Given the national averages the MLA found in its valuable and extensive survey (which states that only 30.7 percent of undergraduate course sections in doctoral-granting English departments and only 25.7 percent in doctoral-granting foreign language departments are taught by tenured or tenure-stream faculty), 50 percent would clearly require a profound shift in attitudes and resources. The question, however, is not whether 50 percent should be the precise goal but whether it is satisfactory — to administrators, faculty, students, parents, state legislators, and the tax-paying public — that English and foreign language departments at research universities staff less than one-third of their undergraduate courses with tenured or tenure-stream faculty.

University and department administrators quoted in the article criticize the MLA recommendation for focusing on credits rather than courses. This sort of hair-splitting overlooks the fact that, despite the language of the resolution, the MLA survey did focus on courses — and arrived at the startling figures reported above. The MLA survey also distinguishes between different institutions (public or private), different departments (doctorate, master's, bachelor's, or associate's), and different courses (first-year writing or language courses as opposed to other undergraduate courses). The survey found, for instance, that in doctoral-granting English departments, though 47 percent of all courses offered are courses in first-year writing, tenured or tenure-stream faculty teach only 6 percent of these courses. This figure gives some indication of the extent to which tenured or tenure-stream faculty in research universities have fled certain parts of the introductory curriculum.

Finally, University and department administrators quoted in the article suggest that the quality of teaching in research universities is not at all compromised by the use of non-tenure-stream faculty. We agree that there are many non-tenure-stream faculty who are marvelous teachers and who make a valuable contribution to higher education. But to end all discussion here would be to overlook the undeniable fact that most non-tenure-stream faculty are overworked and underpaid. Stories abound of poorly compensated faculty who teach courses at several universities during the same semester in order to make ends meet. To presume that such practices have no effect on the quality of teaching (especially over the long haul) is to presume that working conditions have no effect on the worker. Moreover, even those non-tenure-stream faculty not forced to work at multiple institutions are often excluded from crucial decision-making about policy and curriculum in their departments –or, if they do participate, they receive little credit for doing so.

The MLA survey reveals that compensation for non-tenure-stream faculty (both part-time and full-time) in the English department at Pitt is considerably below the average for doctoral-granting English departments at similar public research universities. Such matters merit serious action. There are, we believe, fiscally responsible initiatives that would improve both the working conditions of part-time and non-tenure-stream faculty and the pedagogical climate of undergraduate education. These could include increased pay, greater support for professional development, and wider eligibility for University recognition of and rewards for their work. The quality of undergraduate education, the working conditions of a large percentage of faculty, and the future of academic freedom are all at stake.

James Seitz

Stephen Carr

Richard Tobias

Department of English

Letters Policy


Letters should be submitted at least one week prior to publication. Persons criticized in a letter will receive a copy of the letter so that they may prepare a response. If no response is received the letter will be published alone.

Letters can be sent to 308 Bellefield Hall (include hard copy and a disk when possible) or can be sent by e-mail to

The University Times reserves the right to edit letters for clarity or length. Individuals are limited to two published letters per academic term. Unsigned letters will not be accepted for publication.

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