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February 22, 2001


University Senate Matters, Nathan Hershey

The Feb. 15 University Senate special plenary session explored the topic, "The Open University: Is Pitt Open Enough?" A good number of University administrators were present, I suppose because, in addition to six faculty members, Chancellor Nordenberg was scheduled to speak. Despite a relatively small audience, I believe the session was a success.

Anyone who has any reservations about the commitment of the faculty to the University, or faculty members' ability to express eloquently their views about University affairs, would have had them dispelled by attending. The faculty presentations were largely directed to structures and processes through which faculty participate in University activities, and the extent to which they can facilitate openness. Several faculty expressed the view that there is a need to examine and to modify the current processes and structures, to facilitate more effective faculty participation in decision-making processes, and thereby improve the University.

At the January Faculty Assembly meeting I proposed consideration of possible changes in the University Senate, but I did not make specific proposals. My objective was, and is, to encourage members of the Faculty Assembly, and others, to devote some thought as to how we, as a university community, might better achieve the University's goals. The faculty presentations at the plenary session strengthened my belief that serious attention can be directed toward ways to have the University do better, without getting into any type of "blame game," with regard to why some necessary things still need to be accomplished.

Unremarked upon by any of the speakers was the fact that there are evident differences in the extent of openness among the various educational units. Whether they are attributable to historic patterns or reflect the leadership approach of the unit heads or some other factor is not entirely clear. The key element in my view is that faculty should believe that they are, indeed, participants in the unit in which they serve, and in the University as a whole, rather than see themselves as just employees.

I cannot recall any other occasion on which faculty had the opportunity to give to the chancellor, and other key administrators, their views about the University and how it might better serve the interests of faculty, students and the community, with an agenda the faculty, rather than the administration, selected. The faculty certainly took advantage of this opportunity.

q During the early evening of Feb. 3 I attended the 2001 Pittsburgh Panther scholar-athlete award dinner held by the Department of Athletics to honor the members of the University of Pittsburgh intercollegiate athletic teams who had, during the year 2000, achieved grade point averages of 3.0 and better. I have attended several such events and I find them very positive experiences for guests, athletes, academic counselors and coaches. Of the 453 varsity athletes, 260 achieved grade point averages of at least 3.0 or better. It is particularly worth noting that 13 varsity athletes achieved 4.0 GPAs, including one member of the volleyball team who is a mechanical engineering student. There were also awards given to the men's and women's teams with the highest team GPAs.

As someone who occasionally sees our athletes at practice and in the training rooms, I am probably more aware than most faculty of the nature and extent of their commitment. Of course, many receive financial aid as recruited athletes, and they have the benefit of assistance provided by academic counselors. While these benefits should not be seen as insubstantial, if one considers the amount of time athletes commit to practice, competition and maintaining the necessary level of fitness year round as work, as do some critics of intercollegiate sports, the financial rewards per hour of activity are likely to be little more than payment at the minimum wage rate. When I have found the only opportunity I had to work out was to use the Field House track at 7 a.m., on arrival I have often found more than two dozen members of the track team at practice. Maintaining such a daily schedule requires a commitment that many students would not be willing to make in return for the financial aid provided to recruited athletes.

q At the most recent Faculty Assembly and Senate Council meetings, Senate Vice President Carol Redmond presented the Report of the Task Force on Annual Faculty Evaluation of Department Chairs. The task force she headed at my request developed a survey instrument that was then used in a pilot program to test it and to determine whether information gained from it, and the participants' impressions of the overall process, gave sufficient promise to provide a basis for extending faculty evaluation of department chairs throughout the University. Copies of the report are available from the University Senate office. Issues related to faculty roles in evaluation will be on the front burner for quite some time.

Carol also led an ad hoc faculty group that worked with Jerome Rosenberg to improve the University's Research Integrity Policy. I mention these activities to illustrate the efforts made by faculty members, and the role of Senate officers in leading these activities.

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