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February 21, 2013

University sustainability group sought

In a departure from earlier leanings that appeared to favor separating the University Senate’s plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee’s sustainability subcommittee (SusC) into a free-standing committee (see Feb. 7 University Times), Senate leaders now plan to roll the group back into its parent and seek the formation of an independent University sustainability working group.

The Senate had been seeking a new way forward for the subcommittee, said Senate President Thomas C. Smitherman, “in order to find a more efficient and time-effective way for the senior administration to provide liaison to the subcommittee and its parent PUP committee.”

Smitherman told Faculty Assembly on Tuesday that the decision was reached in a Feb. 13 conference call among Senate executive committee members, PUP co-chairs Susanna Leers and Patricia Weiss, SusC chair Buck Favorini and PUP member Irene Frieze, who had been instrumental in forming the recycling committee that was SusC’s predecessor.

Noting that because SusC was formed without any Faculty Assembly action, merging it back into PUP likewise requires no resolution from the Assembly, Smitherman said.

Senate leaders also had been considering reformatting the subcommittee, which had been functioning essentially as a working group, to meet Senate bylaws.

However, that option, as well as the proposal to separate SusC from PUP, was not viewed by senior administrators “to be appreciably more efficient for the purposes of providing liaison” than the current situation, Smitherman said.

Administrators did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Senate proposal.

“The executive committee is confident that this plan will allow the Senate’s vibrant and productive contributions to sustainability efforts at the University in a manner that is both efficient and successful,” Smitherman said.

He said PUP will form a task force to “shape their sustainability efforts for the future,” adding that he hoped to be able to report on the “possible shape and form of a University-wide sustainability working group” at the next Faculty Assembly meeting, set for April 2.

PUP co-chair Weiss said, “Within PUP we are actively working to reabsorb sustainability as one of our areas of responsibility,” adding that her co-chair, Leers, will chair the task force to identify an agenda for sustainability. “Some of those areas will be within PUP’s scope, some will not.  We’re hoping it will be a campus-wide group that we can pass those along to,” Weiss said.

She said the committee plans to encourage faculty who have been involved in SusC to run for seats on PUP or to volunteer as pro-tem members, “so that we will have stronger representation in that area of interest and expertise.”

Following the Faculty Assembly meeting, Frieze told the University Times that she has been pleased over the years to see increased interest among Pitt administrators in supporting sustainability efforts.

“It’s because of the nudging of the committee that these changes have occurred,” she said, noting that sustainability efforts have included such changes as delivering supplies in reusable bags instead of boxes, instituting composting and buying from local farms in food services, among others.

“It’s very sad that the higher-level administrators don’t really want to work with (SusC) any more,” she said, noting that many lower-level administrators attended the meetings, with some of them reporting on sustainability efforts in their areas.

Frieze found the proposal to be “a reasonable compromise, assuming we get this administrative committee set up as well,” she said. “I do think it’s really important that gets set up.”

PUP committee report

In a PUP committee report, Leers outlined PUP’s work and Weiss reviewed its progress on faculty concerns about classroom scheduling.

Leers provided an overview of PUP’s scope. “We do a lot of work besides just the sustainability subcommittee,” she said.

“Basically, the mission statement says that we are concerned with the Pitt campus infrastructure, grounds and facilities. We keep track of any building going on on-campus, both new construction and renovation. We look to see that consideration is given to energy efficiency and sustainability, thoughtful use of space and resources and aesthetically pleasing design. We are also concerned about transportation and public safety issues such as traffic and parking, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian safety and building security.”

The committee meets monthly, she said. “At each meeting we receive a regular report from the liaisons who come to our meeting — we have quite a number of them from the administration at Pitt. They advise us and inform us of the projects that are going on. We also invite guest speakers to give presentations in depth on issues that we’re concerned about.”

Sometimes committee members have specific issues to discuss, or bring concerns from faculty members from across campus. Recent issues have included discussion of pedestrian safety on Bigelow Boulevard between the Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Union and at the intersection of Fifth and Bellefield avenues, Leers said.

In the past year the group has received reports on the Chevron Science Center annex, the Hillman Library patio, the expansion of the Graduate School of Public Health’s Crabtree and Parran halls, the Salk Hall addition, The Book Center renovation and the Nordenberg Hall dorm.

She said the Hillman patio project, which has been fraught with difficulties, is drawing to a close. A green roof will be part of the finished project, which Leers said would be a pleasant place to visit once the project is completed.

The Book Center renovation and Nordenberg Hall construction are expected to be complete in time for the fall term, she said, adding that the GSPH expansion and renovation is expected to be complete in 2016.

PUP has heard presentations in the past year on continuing security system upgrades to campus buildings, The Book Center renovation, building and architecture awards University projects have won, sustainable groundskeeping practices and classroom scheduling.

In addition, she said, PUP took field trips to the University Library System’s Thomas Boulevard facility and the Chevron Science Center. Future tours include the new Book Center and Nordenberg Hall.


Weiss said PUP has “gotten off to a good start” with the University registrar in conversations about difficulties in classroom scheduling.

In response to her request for details from faculty members (see Nov. 21, 2012, University Times) Weiss said she received seven reports of problems: five from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, one from the School of Social Work and one from a public health faculty member who was teaching a Graduate School of Public and International Affairs class.

Details were sent to Patti Mathay, who had been serving as interim registrar and in January was named University registrar. Weiss said Mathay earlier this month discussed with PUP how classroom assignments are negotiated and outlined factors that can contribute to difficulties: time of day and the effect on enrollment numbers; mismatches between the type of teaching and the type of room, and the absence of needed technology.

“This will not be resolved easily,” Weiss said, adding that the committee will continue to work with Mathay in hopes of improving scheduling.

Admissions and student aid committee report

Admissions and student aid committee chair Susan Shaiman reported that the committee met seven times in the 2011-12 academic year.

Shaiman noted that she was part of the search committee that selected Marc Harding as Pitt’s new chief enrollment officer following the retirement of Betsy Porter, director of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, last year. (See  June 28, 2012, University Times.)

“He is wonderful, enthusiastic and has great ideas,” she said, adding that the committee has been learning about his interests and vision for admissions and financial aid as he learns about Pitt’s culture.

She said much of the committee’s work has been focused on retention, but is now transitioning to take a closer look at “What is the University doing that is making a University of Pittsburgh degree a value? And how do we document and demonstrate that value for students who are looking for freshman year experiences? How do we attract these strong students?”

The committee has been examining the Middle States report and Pitt’s self-study as two of its sources for details that help answer those questions.

“We need to make sure that we get the word out that we are doing a very good job … We are attracting a lot of students that are applying. We are bringing in good quality students. But I think there is an opportunity for us to look at all the data that we are acquiring and figure out how we can make an even stronger case for the things that we are doing well.”

Some of those things are somewhat hidden, she said, citing programs to support first-generation college students or those from low-income or underrepresented groups. “The University has academic resources in place … I think that it’s important that we make the University community aware of all these other types of resources students can benefit from.”

Jeen-Shang Lin, a representative from engineering, noted that freshman admissions criteria have been rising and expressed concern that the quality of transfer students is not keeping up.

Shaiman said there are programs in place to consider the quality of students coming to the Pittsburgh campus both from the regional campuses and outside the Pitt system, adding that services are available for transfer students who are having difficulty making the transition.

Lin said, “I was told a lot of high school counselors know there’s a back door to come to Pitt,” asking whether the committee should revisit the issue, given that freshman admission standards appear to be very high, relative to transfer students.

She said the committee could ask Harding to look into the process and report to the committee on transfer students’ status.

Budget policies committee chair John J. Baker said transfer students “don’t go through the admissions office,” adding that articulation agreements determine which students transfer in. “We take about 900 per year and we have about 3,600 freshmen per year that go through the regular admissions process.”

Shaiman noted that in her experience as a faculty member in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, she has noted that departments within SHRS screen students individually to determine their qualifications for specific programs, for example, at the junior level. “I think there needs to be flexibility in terms of what the requirements are,” she said, offering to look into Lin’s question.

In other business:

• Smitherman said the review of graduate programs in German, religious studies and classics is ongoing.

“I’m assured by the provost that we are nearing an end of that review process and should have final information for you in the very near future.”

• Remaining Faculty Assembly meetings for the term are set for April 2, April 30 and June 2.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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