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December 6, 2012

Clearer policies for non-tenure stream faculty sought

Irene Frieze

Irene Frieze

Faculty Assembly has recommended that schools and units communicate clear policies regarding full-time non-tenure stream faculty members.

In a Nov. 27 presentation to Faculty Assembly, non-tenure stream faculty subcommittee chair Irene Frieze outlined her group’s recommendations, which also were on Senate Council’s Dec. 5 meeting agenda.

“If we look at the University policies, many of the things we’re recommending are already part of our policies, so we’re not really recommending anything new or radical but really suggesting that we need to look at the policies and follow them more carefully,” she said.

She acknowledged that there are issues for part-time non-tenure stream faculty as well, but said the report was limited to full-time non-tenure stream faculty.

“We feel this is important now because this is a growing group on campus. … Many [non-tenure stream faculty] in many units feel they’re not really being treated the way they should be treated,” Frieze said.

Frieze said the recommendations do not dictate what units’ policies should cover beyond the essentials the subcommittee believed every policy should have.

University Senate President Thomas C. Smitherman commented on the need for a policy that is not too rigid: “I think in a University as big and complex as ours … a lot of flexibility and a certain degree of vagueness in the overarching guidelines is useful for the faculty.”

The recommendations

The committee recommended that schools and units have a clear, publicly available policy on non-tenure stream faculty that outlines plans for annual evaluations and who conducts them, as well as criteria for promotion for each relevant non-tenure stream classification used in the unit.


Public availability is the key, she said. “We did find many excellent policies in many different areas … but many times we could not find a policy on the web site,” Frieze said. “And some units we asked about policies, they admitted that they didn’t really have one.”

Position titles

The committee recommended that position titles be clear, consistent with the non-tenure stream faculty member’s duties and meet definitions outlined in the University’s faculty handbook. Frieze said the faculty handbook includes definitions for faculty titles, adding that many units are not following the definitions. She urged that units “at least review” the handbook definitions.

Letters of appointment

The subcommittee also recommended that letters of appointment “clearly describe the expectations for the position and the evaluation and promotion procedures, which many of them have not often done. They should also list the time period of the appointment,” Frieze said.

The subcommittee found that letters of appointment often vary, she said. “There are guidelines for this but they’re not always followed.”

Regular annual evaluations

The recommendations called for annual evaluations for non-tenure stream faculty.

Frieze said that although University policy states that all faculty should have annual evaluations, “that’s apparently not always done for our non-tenure stream faculty.

“We’re urging that each unit should really seriously do this, set up procedures for doing this.”

Who should review?

Frieze said that many non-tenure stream faculty the committee talked to requested that, if possible, non-tenure stream faculty be involved in the review of their peers rather than the reviews being done only by tenure-stream faculty.

Members of the University community also suggested that terminal reviews could be offered for non-tenure stream faculty who will not be continuing at Pitt. Frieze said it’s useful for the departing faculty members to have feedback on their performance.

Promotion policies

“The policies should outline the criteria for promotion for each of the classifications used in that unit,” Frieze said.

“For example, if they’re all teaching faculty, exactly how it is that teaching faculty should be evaluated. Is it appropriate to consider research in the evaluation or should the evaluation be based solely on teaching? So there should be policies about that. We’re not saying what the policy should be, just that each unit should think about that and should have those policies,” Frieze said.

Institutional privileges

The recommendations state that units also should ensure timely activation and maintenance of institutional privileges and that they should ensure non-tenure stream faculty have the appropriate resources to enable them to function effectively.

Frieze noted that while the recommendation is stated in general terms, the subcommittee learned of numerous practical problems that affected non-tenure stream faculty members.

For instance, Frieze said that non-tenure stream faculty in arts and sciences often have undergraduate teaching duties that begin in late August. However, they may not get ID cards until they go on the payroll in September. That means they may not immediately have access to the library, CourseWeb or other things that they need in order to do their job effectively, she said.

Practical issues also can arise at the end of a non-tenure stream faculty member’s contract. “If they’re off the payroll and off the University email system, how do students contact them if they need to find out about an incomplete grade?” Frieze said.

“We need to have ways that people can actually do their job, that deal with the fact that they’re no longer on the payroll or that they haven’t started on the payroll.”


The document is posted at


The committee’s assertion that some non-tenure stream faculty felt they were being treated unfairly prompted discussion among Assembly members.

Smitherman noted that, in the medical school, faculty- members have been discouraged from indicating explicitly — on letterhead, business cards and the like — whether they are tenured.

“Our view is everybody in school is providing a very valuable service. We cherish them and try to nourish them,” he said. “When I heard some of the comments about how some non-tenure stream faculty feel as though they are treated in a second-class citizenship way — that’s worrisome. I don’t think that’s a good thing for the University.”

He asked Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Carey D. Balaban to look into the issue and determine what might be done to correct it.

Whether non-tenure stream faculty feel discriminated against is largely a matter of local culture, Balaban, a professor of otolaryngology, said.

“This notion of whether people are feeling valued or not … it comes down to how we treat each other as faculty,” he said.

The University may make the best possible policies, but unless colleagues treat each other with respect, policies will not work, said Balaban, who likewise expressed distress over the non-tenure stream faculty members’ perceptions.

“It’s a lesson to us. It’s a lesson for civility and what it means to be an academic institution and an academic family.”

Several faculty members brought up concerns about the related issue of increasing percentages of non-tenure stream faculty in academia.

Senate tenure and academic freedom committee chair Rose Constantino noted that at Pitt the numbers are growing for both tenure-stream and non-tenure stream faculty. Her committee’s report on the state of the faculty is expected in April.


In other business:

• Senate benefits and welfare committee chair Angela Riccelli reported that the committee had scheduled eight meetings for the 2012-13 academic year.

To date, the committee has heard from John Kozar of Human Resources, who reviewed changes to the student health plan; plans for post-65 retiree meetings and medical coverage rates, and health care coverage expenses.

Riccelli said Jay Mahoney of TIAA reviewed management fees with the committee; Jessica Daw of the UPMC Health Plan reviewed pharmacy formulary changes to the University’s health plan, and John Jakicic, director of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, offered updates on Pitt’s wellness program and improvements to Trees Hall exercise facilities.

Upcoming meeting topics in the spring term include work-life balance issues; long-term care; vision and dental insurance; the 2014 Affordable Care Act, and a TIAA-CREF presentation.

• Jonathan Duvall, president of the Students for Disability Advocacy, outlined details about the new Pitt student group and its plans.

Duvall is a master’s degree student in rehabilitation sciences and technology in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and a graduate student researcher at the Human Engineering Resources Laboratory.

Duvall, who uses a power wheelchair, broke his neck in a 2007 sledding accident as an undergraduate on campus.

He told Assembly members that the group’s purpose is to support students with disabilities as well as to advocate for changes that would promote a more diverse, inclusive and accessible community for all students. Meetings provide a forum in which students can discuss supports and barriers in their lives and offer advice and solutions for one another.

Duvall said he hopes the Pitt group can become a role model for other universities and can help encourage other students with disabilities to study at Pitt.

Duvall said issues he wants to discuss with University Senate members include making it easier for faculty and students to interact and for faculty to better understand students’ needs for accommodations.

“We want them to understand what some of the disabilities are and how it affects a student’s life,” Duvall said, noting that faculty may receive notification that a student needs accommodations in class but may not fully understand the student’s situation and its effect in the classroom.

Senate student affairs committee chair Anthony Bledsoe invited Duvall to make a presentation at the committee’s January meeting.

Bledsoe said he saw areas of overlap with issues presented by a student veterans group, adding that the committee would work to address both groups’ concerns.

• Faculty Assembly’s next meeting is set for 3 p.m. Jan. 22. The meeting location had not been determined as of the University Times press time.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 8

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