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June 14, 2012

A&S graduate admissions suspensions:

Faculty Assembly examines timeline

The suspension of admissions to graduate programs in German, classics and religious studies was the focus of the June 5 Faculty Assembly meeting.

Dean N. John Cooper, in an April 5 memorandum to Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences department chairs and directors, wrote: “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.”

Chairs of the three departments reported to Faculty Assembly on the effects the suspensions have had (see related story this issue). Prior to the chairs’ reports, Senate past president John Baker, who chairs the Senate budget policies committee, recapped the timeline of the admissions suspension announcement. Baker also referred Assembly members to the letter from members of the Pitt AAUP chapter and the response by Provost Patricia E. Beeson published in the May 17 University Times.

The goal of his report, Baker said, was “to prompt arts and sciences faculty, planning committees and the administration to have a more transparent discussion and agreement on the criteria and standards to be used to evaluate A&S academic programs — undergraduate as well as graduate — and the criteria for suspending admissions, or modifying or eliminating a program.”

Baker said the general criteria used by the arts and sciences administration for evaluating graduate programs included the following: the scale of the program; the cost of the program relative to the graduate education goal, as measured by teaching assistant/teaching fellow (TA/TF) advancement per doctoral degree granted; levels of net tuition revenue generated; quality of the program as measured by the qualifications of incoming students, such as student honors; strategic national positioning of the program; external perceptions of the quality of the program as evidenced in peer evaluations, and standing in popular rankings, such as those done by U.S. News & World Report.

“I think the criteria that the deans use are criteria that you would want to consider if you were going to evaluate programs. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue I am trying to raise is that those criteria may have been incomplete,” Baker said.

“Perhaps the most important question is whether Pitt continues to be a world-class public university without graduate programs in classics, religious studies and German and whatever other arts and sciences programs that might end up being eliminated.”

University Senate President Michael Pinsky said, “We’ve been informed by the senior administration that they are going to be following policy and have open discussions with all the different departments going forward. So nothing is cut in stone, but at this point we thought it was appropriate in this forum to have the three [department chairs] come and discuss the issue.”

Members agreed that because the issue is an ongoing matter internal to the Dietrich school, no action by Faculty Assembly was warranted.


In other Assembly business:

Members voted to amend the Senate’s bylaws to reflect advances in electronic communications. Under the bylaws, the Senate president is required to submit a written report on Senate activities annually by Aug. 1. In practice, no such report has been prepared for several years, according to bylaws and procedures committee chair and past Senate president Nicholas Bircher.

Assembly members agreed that a reasonable substitute for a president’s report was to post on the Senate web site ( all meeting notices and minutes, and any reports, newsletters and Senate Matters columns generated by Senate committees, Faculty Assembly or Senate Council. The amendment passed unanimously.

It was expected to be discussed at yesterday’s Senate Council meeting, which occurred after the University Times went to press.

Pinsky said that Faculty Assembly would not meet again until the fall.

Members held a moment of silence for John Close, long-time participant in the University Senate, who died May 23. (See May 31 University Times.)

—Peter Hart

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