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May 17, 2012



Handling of grad program suspensions criticized

To the editor:

The Pitt chapter of the AAUP is concerned that the recent decision by deans of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences to suspend admissions to the graduate programs in classics, German and religious studies was made prematurely and without adequate consultation with the chairs of these departments or with the relevant arts and sciences and planning and budgeting committees.

It is clear from the University’s Guidelines for the Review of Academic Planning Proposals (1995) ( that any decision to terminate or substantially modify a graduate program requires approval by the provost, not merely by the dean of a school, and that any proposal to do so must follow detailed procedures which include significant involvement of unit and center planning and budgeting committees and other academic bodies.

We hope that Provost Beeson’s recent statements about opening a discussion among all interested parties mean that any changes to these graduate programs contemplated by A&S administrators will quickly be subjected to serious review by the appropriate bodies, so that the futures of these programs may be clarified and the decision to suspend admissions may be either confirmed or reversed.

The chairs of these departments first became aware of the deans’ intentions on April 2, when Deans John Cooper and Stephen Carr informed them that admission to the graduate programs in their departments might be suspended in a few days, in the context of the possible phasing out of the three graduate programs. On April 5 the deans met with the chairs individually to inform them that no new students could be admitted to their graduate programs for the foreseeable future.

Neither a policy of closing some small graduate programs nor a decision to suspend admissions was endorsed by any of the relevant bodies, according to the minutes on record for the Arts and Sciences Council, Graduate Council or University Planning and Budgeting Committee.

The A&S document “Focusing for the Future: Strategic Plan for FY2013,” dated March 30 and given to the affected chairs in an earlier version April 2, was apparently first made available to other department chairs and faculty on April 19. This seems to be the first mention on record potentially for the faculty at large that the deans were planning to “review relevant programs and determine which must be suspended” (the earlier version had read “closed”), although on April 5 Dean Cooper had notified A&S chairs and program directors of the suspension of admissions to the three graduate programs. In his April 5 message he stated that “The decision to suspend admission to these graduate programs was a difficult but necessary step given the current budget situation, and was made in consultation with, and informed by the input of, our Deans, members of the Dietrich School Council and our Planning and Budget Committee, as well as the recommendations submitted by our chairs and directors.” However, no formal proposal to terminate these programs has yet been presented to, or reviewed by, any relevant committee.

To the extent that the suspension of admissions was premised upon assumptions about the termination or substantial modification of these programs, the lack of significant faculty involvement in consideration of these specific measures indicates a failure to follow important policies and procedures of the University.  The 1995 guidelines state that “all planning proposals must be reviewed by the appropriate academic unit(s) and academic responsibility center(s) as well as by the responsibility center Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) and relevant departmental PBC.” Section 1B, “Termination of Majors, Degree Programs, Academic Programs or Schools,” says that proposals should include (No. 7) “A list of the faculty groups and relevant administrators who were consulted, and a summary of their comments on the proposed change(s), including a statement from the Planning and Budgeting committees of the relevant department (if applicable) and responsibility center.”

The Statement on Governance of Colleges and Universities jointly endorsed by the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges affirms that “Effective planning demands that the broadest possible exchange of information and opinion should be the rule for communication among the components of a college or a university. The channels of communication should be established and maintained by joint endeavor.” Pitt’s policies and procedures provide multiple channels for such shared governance. But they can work effectively only when they are followed, and this has not been the case with the presumed program changes on which the suspension of admission to these graduate programs was apparently based.

Our concern is less with the merits of the decision to suspend admissions to the three graduate programs than with the process by which it was made. It is imperative, especially in times of fiscal austerity and political scrutiny, that faculty remain fully involved in decisions regarding academic programs, and not just in a token role. Going forward, we would remind all of our colleagues in the University community, administrators and faculty alike, how important it is that in addressing the serious budgetary and educational challenges before us we work together constructively and respectfully through our institutions of shared governance.

(For a longer version of this letter, addressed to Provost Beeson, with more detailed reference to procedural shortcomings concerning these suspensions, see the  Pitt  AAUP  web site:


Beverly Ann Gaddy, President

John J. Baker, Immediate Past-President

Philip K. Wion, Secretary/Treasurer


The provost responds

Over the past year, the University has absorbed reductions in commonwealth support totaling $67 million and the administration’s budget proposal includes additional cuts that will bring the total to over $110 million.  These deep and disproportionate cuts have forced the University to examine areas of previous commitment and consider difficult choices.

This context added immediacy to deliberations within the Dietrich school, begun in the fall, on how to most effectively plan for the next five years within a context of striving for excellence with unstable, and in some areas declining, financial resources.  Graduate education was identified as one area in which the school could focus and reallocate resources to increase the impact of its programs.

Reallocation of resources was one of the topics under discussion throughout the spring meetings of the Dietrich school’s planning and budgeting committee (PBC) and the criteria for measuring the success and impact of graduate programs were discussed and developed at multiple meetings of the school’s Graduate Council. Specific language for the annual planning document regarding reallocation of resources from graduate programs that did not meet specified criteria (some quantitative and some qualitative) was agreed to at the March 16 meeting of the Dietrich school PBC. No specific programs had been discussed at that point, but at its April 27 meeting the committee reviewed data that the deans of the school had developed and used to suspend admission to three programs. The PBC formally confirmed at that meeting that the deans had appropriately applied the agreed-upon criteria in moving forward to implement the reallocation strategy. Approval and posting of minutes from governance committee meetings always takes some time, but I understand the minutes of both of these meetings will be posted this week.

The decision to suspend admission to the three programs was communicated to the chairs involved in early April, shortly after completion of the planning process, to ensure that students contemplating offers of admission could make their decisions with full knowledge that the programs were under review.

At this point, admission to the graduate programs has only been suspended while the dean’s office engages in conversations with the chairs and other members of the faculty concerning the future of these programs. Any proposal to close programs that results from these discussions will undergo appropriate review in accordance with both the Guidelines for Review of Academic Planning Proposals and the Planning and Budgeting System.

Patricia E. Beeson

Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor


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