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May 16, 2002

Senate surveys part-time faculty

Part-time faculty who responded to a University Senate survey expressed a high degree of satisfaction with physical resources at the Pittsburgh and regional campuses (secretarial support, access to departmental computers and mailboxes) and moderate-to-high satisfaction with academic support (such as departments providing adequate grading guidelines, and matching teaching preferences with course offerings).

Respondents were less satisfied with University communication. Only 28.6 percent said they were informed of tenure track and full-time positions available to part-timers, for example.

The Senate educational policies committee (EPC) survey of part-time instructors — believed to be the first-ever survey of Pitt part-time faculty — included 23 questions relating to support of teaching. See box.

The survey avoided salary issues. "For one thing, we believed compensation was outside the purview of our committee," said EPC member and Senate vice president Thomas Metzger. "Also, we couldn't come up with a way to phrase a question to which people wouldn't come back with, 'I'm underpaid.'"

Questionnaires were mailed last Dec. 1 to 798 regular part-time faculty here and at Pitt's Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville campuses. Some 138 responses were returned by the Jan. 1, 2002, deadline.

The 17.5 percent response rate wasn't bad for an opinion survey, noted EPC chairperson Evelyn O. Talbott. Anticipating criticism of the survey's timing — near the end of the fall term, and encompassing the holiday break — Talbott said: "One thing our committee found is that there is no good time" for conducting a survey. "You can think of a million reasons why any given week at any given point in the University calendar is not good."

Based on part-timers' re-sponses to questions and written comments, EPC is recommending the following to the Provost's office:

* Part-time instructors' ID cards should be valid from August to August (or July to July), enabling instructors to access University libraries and other resources in preparing courses. Currently, ID cards can expire during the middle of the term, EPC pointed out.

* Computing Services and Systems Development and academic departments should distribute memos describing computer resources available to part-time instructors. Also, the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE) should make a special effort to inform part-timers of Course Info/Blackboard web-based instructional resources. Of the EPC survey respondents, 92.4 percent either didn't know what Blackboard was or had never used it.

* Each department should issue a statement on grading policies for specific courses and general guidelines for courses.

* Each term, departments should inform part-time instructors exactly how their teaching will be evaluated, and whether Office of Measure and Evaluation of Teaching-conducted student evaluations of teaching are required.

* Any department or school employing 10 or more part-time instructors should consider forming a committee to facilitate communication among faculty, both full- and part-time.

* A survey of part-time faculty should be administered every three-to-five years for further input.

Andrew R. Blair, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, agreed with Talbott that EPC's recommendations are "reasonable."

"Some of these recommendations can be acted on directly by our office," Blair said. "Some things would have to be investigated — for example, the complaint that part-time faculty aren't being informed about Course Info and Blackboard. I rather suspect that they are. But I don't know that for sure, so we would need to check with CIDDE."

The vice provost called the survey responses gratifying. "Admittedly, the response rate was less than 18 percent, but the data seem to be pretty positive. You often wonder about how part-time faculty feel. Do they feel estranged, and so forth? Clearly, this [survey] group does not."

Of the 138 survey respondents, 57 teach in the arts and sciences, by far the largest contingent.

— Bruce Steele

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