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April 19, 2001

Administration will consider free bus rides for adjunct Pitt faculty

Senior administrators say they will consider including Pitt's thousands of volunteer faculty members among the University personnel who can ride for free on Port Authority of Allegheny County buses and light-rail vehicles.

But extending the ride-for-free service to volunteer faculty (usually referred to as "adjunct" faculty) would dramatically increase Pitt's costs and probably would translate into a smaller pool of money for salaries next year, administrators warned Senate Council on April 9.

Pitt is paying the Port Authority $1.9 million this year in exchange for county-wide free rides for Pittsburgh campus students and benefits-receiving employees. Pitt's costs are expected to increase by as much as 20 percent for the next contract year, which begins Aug. 1. (See April 5 University Times.) Pittsburgh campus students pay a $55 per term safety and transportation fee that partly subsidizes the Port Authority costs. The University administration pays the balance with auxiliary funds. Faculty and staff pay nothing for the service, although they, like students, ride for free by showing their Pitt I.D. cards.

Pittsburgh campus students and employees were issued new I.D. cards that became effective Jan. 2. The new cards are blue, carry an expiration date and have a different coding system than their predecessors, which did not differentiate between volunteer and benefits-receiving employees. When the new cards went into effect, some adjunct professors (who had never qualified for the ride-for-free program, although they didn't know it) were surprised to find that they could no longer use their I.D.s to ride for free on Port Authority vehicles.

Pitt regional campus employees also have complained at being excluded from the ride-for-free service. (April 5 University Times.) At this month's meetings of Faculty Assembly and Senate Council, several professors protested that Pitt was showing disrespect to volunteer faculty by excluding them from the ride-for-free deal. Psychology professor James Holland said that, whatever it would cost the University to extend ride-for-free to volunteer faculty, "it would still be a bargain" considering how much Pitt benefits from the teaching and other services those faculty members provide.

At Senate Council, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, Provost James Maher and Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran apologized for any inconvenience and embarrassment volunteer faculty suffered in trying unsuccessfully to use their new I.D.s on Port Authority vehicles.

Volunteer faculty (including nearly 3,000 in the medical school alone, plus hundreds more in other units) contribute significantly to the University, according to Nordenberg, who said he greatly valued the law school's adjunct faculty when he was dean of that school. "To the extent that there were communications failures or anything else centrally that interfered with the nurturing of those relationships, I think that is too bad," Nordenberg said.

But the chancellor suggested that the primary payoff that volunteer faculty receive "is the connection with people in their own discipline and what it means for them in terms of their own feelings of professional contribution and accomplishment.

"I really do think that in terms of advancing your goal [of fully appreciating volunteer faculty], which I happen to agree with, the most important work is done at the unit level," Nordenberg said.

— Bruce Steele

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