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April 4, 2013


University Senate presidential candidates

Online voting for University Senate officers and Faculty Assembly members is set for April 5-20.

In this year’s race for the Senate presidency, incumbent Thomas C. Smitherman faces Michael Spring.


Smitherman, a professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology in the School of Medicine, has been a Pitt faculty member since 1990.

He has served one term as Senate president. Smitherman’s other Senate service includes membership on Faculty Assembly (2006-12) and on Senate Council since 2008. He served on the Senate’s bylaws and procedures committee (2004-07), chaired the committee (2006-07), and was a School of Medicine representative to the committee on elections (2000-04 and 2008-12).

In the medical school, Smitherman was a member of the standing committee for tenured faculty promotions and appointments (2001-09) and chaired the committee (2003-09). He was a member of the ad hoc School of Medicine dean’s working group on criteria for faculty appointments and promotions (1999) and served on the medical school’s standing committee for clinical non-tenure track promotions and appointments (1996-98).


Spring, an associate professor of information science and technology in the School of Information Sciences, has been a Pitt faculty member since 1986. He was associate director and director of the University external studies program (1972-86). Since 2009, Spring has been an associate professor in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and a global studies-affiliated faculty member since 2008.

Spring’s service to the Senate includes membership on Senate Council (1993-95, 2009-11, 2013-15), Faculty Assembly (1992-95, 2009-15) and the Senate budget policies committee (2010-present). He served on the plant utilization and planning committee (1996-99) and chaired PUP (1997-98).

Spring also served on the Board of Trustees audit committee (2004-08) and its property and facilities committee (1996-97). He served on the University Judicial Review Board (2003-07); chaired the software and networked information working group (1983-84 and 1996-99), served on the executive committee on academic computing (1982-84 and 1996-99), the provost’s area continuing education committee (1977-78) and the Health Center continuing education committee (1976-86).


The presidential candidates responded in writing to questions posed by University Times reporter Kimberly K. Barlow. Candidates were asked to limit each response to approximately 250 words. Some responses have been edited for length, clarity or style.


In the race for vice president, incumbent James T. Becker, professor of psychiatry, psychology and neurology in the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, will face Irene Frieze, a professor in the Department of Psychology, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

Secretary Linda Frank, an associate professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Graduate School of Public Health, faces challenger Kathleen Kelly, an assistant professor and vice chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Officers serve one-year terms that begin July 1.

What issues will you focus on as Senate president?

SMITHERMAN: In my decade in working with the University Senate, I have been impressed by the effectiveness and productiveness fostered by a cooperative and collegial relationship between the components of the University Senate: faculty members, students, staff and administration. I would focus on continuing that cooperative and collegial way of conducting our business and our meetings.

In July 2012, the National Research Council published its review of the nation’s research universities and the 10 breakthrough actions needed to strengthen them for the nation’s security and prosperity. (See summary: This report was so important to the University that we have put a major effort this year in the Senate in examining it and bringing the report to the attention of the faculty. Special effort was placed on the topics that relate specifically to the universities and their local and regional communities: being more cost-effective and productive; reform of graduate education, and state support of the public research universities. I plan to continue this educational effort next year.

In recent years, two major initiatives have been started thanks in great part to the efforts of the University Senate: CERTS (Community Engagement for Research and Teaching through Service) and Fitness for Life for Pitt employees. I also favor continuing to bring these initiatives to fuller realization, augmenting and enhancing them when needed and feasible. (See Senate Matters, Oct. 27, 2011, University Times and

SPRING: Despite the downturn in commonwealth support for higher education, the University is enjoying a period of strong growth and numerous accomplishments. From the point of view of the Senate, there are two issues worthy of continued attention. No. 1, all faculty are members of the Senate and we need to do a better job of involving the broad community. Technology provides a way to solicit opinions broadly and act as a representative of all the Senate in deliberations in both the Assembly and the Council. Second, the Senate bylaws state: “Through its various organs, [the Senate] considers and makes recommendations concerning educational policies and other matters of Universitywide concern.” Over the years, thanks to great leadership, we find ourselves in some situations less active in shared governance than we might be. I would work to seek a more active role for the faculty in shared governance.

Other issues will no doubt arise and demand attention. It would seem the development of the scorecard suggested by Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education will be one of those where the input of the faculty is warranted and appropriate.

How will you address concerns raised by adjunct and non-tenure stream faculty? Would you support unionization by adjuncts?

SMITHERMAN: The tenure system at the University is healthy. A November 2011 report from Carey Balaban, then chair of the tenure and academic freedom committee, using the 2011 Pitt Fact Book as the source, provides evidence for this judgment. Non-tenured and adjunct faculty are also needed to fulfill our missions.

The need for non-tenured (or adjunct) vs. tenured faculty differs greatly from school (college) to school (college). The status of non-tenured and adjunct faculty must be judged at least partly on a school-by-school basis. For example, the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and regional campuses are teaching-intensive, with about 70 percent of the faculty members tenured. In the Health Sciences there are fewer full-time students. There is an important teaching focus in the Health Sciences, but also a major focus on research and service. About 30 percent of these faculty members are tenured. Overall, the number of tenured or tenure-stream faculty members has remained fairly stable since 1999. There was a spike in the numbers in the medical school, which, when corrected for the increase in total number of medical school faculty, also has remained fairly steady. There have been some increases in the number of full-time non-tenure stream faculty members University-wide, in part by the creation of new full-time positions by combining prior part-time positions. (See University Senate November 2011 meeting minutes and Nov. 10, 2011, University Times.)

Non-tenured or adjunct faculty members are often on a renewable contract (one year or more) which provides substantial protection.

The Senate’s role is to make observations and, when problems are identified, make recommendations to the University administration on how to remedy these problems. A good example from this academic year is the resolution passed by the Faculty Assembly on Nov. 27, 2012, and the Senate Council on Dec. 5, 2012, which arose from the gender subcommittee of the Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee having to do with problems that full-time faculty were encountering. (See Irene Frieze’s report.) The resolution had the full support of the University administration and should lead to improvements in the problems that were identified. The activities of this effort may have contributed to the recent revision of the bylaws of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences that, in my view, improve the status of non-tenured faculty within the large school.

The role of a university senate and the role of a union for faculty members are very different. As a candidate for Senate president, I do not think that it is appropriate for me to voice a public opinion on whether we should have a union for adjunct faculty. I will say, as a faculty member at Pitt for almost 23 years, independent of my candidacy, that I have never perceived a compelling need for a faculty union.

SPRING: Senate bylaws indicate that non-tenure stream and part-time faculty (six+ credits per year), by request, are included in the Senate.  (Maybe the bylaws should be changed to eliminate the clause “by request.”) These matters are a part of our shared governance role and I think better communications with these groups could help to clarify and distill the issues. As to unionization, I do not believe it is the best path. At the same time, the role of the Senate president is not to dictate but to represent the faculty and advise the administration on matters of University-wide concern. Given our increased reliance on these groups to carry out our mission, the Senate should be involved in addressing their concerns.

How have faculty been affected by the staff voluntary early retirement program (VERP) and how should those issues be addressed? Should a VERP be offered for faculty as a cost-saving measure?

SMITHERMAN: There is no doubt that the loss of large numbers of staff and the competencies and institutional memory that left with them after the VERP has created some problems. The effect has likely been felt most by the University administration and the staff but the effect has also undoubtedly, indirectly in many cases, been felt by the faculty members and the student bodies. There is no easy “quick-fix.”  In time, as existing staff get more experience and improve their skills, we will return to the prior state before the staff VERP.

Currently a VERP for faculty is not being contemplated by the University administration and I agree with that position. The faculty-to-student ratio at Pitt is not unusually high compared to our peer universities. A VERP for faculty could unfavorably affect that ratio. It also could have an undesired effect on the overall quality of our faculty in that it could provide a motivation for highly productive (and “highly movable”) faculty who are not yet near the usual retirement age, to participate in the VERP and soon thereafter move to the faculties at other universities, including those in our peer group.

SPRING: No doubt, it varies unit by unit. Personally, I see little difference at this time. It is my belief that with better automation, we should generally be able to do more with fewer people. The new purchasing initiative, the new registration system and other forms of automation should generally reduce the need for some traditional roles. Where the retirements have decreased our ability to fulfill our responsibilities, we need to advise the chancellor and his senior administrators. This would be a perfect question for a poll to the faculty as a whole — people are generally very willing to respond and provide feedback when they feel pain. It would also lead to the Assembly and the Council taking a more proactive role in shared governance.

How can the University best prepare for the future in light of current trends in student demographics, new educational technology and reduced government funding?

SMITHERMAN: The University Senate, for the benefit of the entire University, is trying to make a very meaningful contribution to understanding the cyberlearning revolution that is sweeping higher education in the United States. The final answers to these questions will not be apparent immediately, but will emerge over the next few months and years. Doubtless the first answers will lead to many new questions. In the fall of 2012, the University Senate executive committee decided to organize a Senate plenary session on the cyberlearning revolution in higher education, set for noon-3 p.m. April 18. (See ad, page 4.) We are hopeful that the results of this session will be helpful not only to us but all of higher education. Please join us and share your ideas. We are delighted that Pitt will be an active participant in this revolution right from the beginning through its participation along with other elite universities in the new company, Coursera.

SPRING: There is not enough time, or space, for an adequate answer to this one. I am finishing a book on the digital information revolution that includes a section on education with a few thoughts about higher education. Given my preoccupation, consider three ideas about digital information. First, organizations that are concerned with information are shifting from atoms to bits — e.g. books to e-books, DVD, records and CDs to online streaming, banks and brokerage houses to online financial services, etc. Higher education is very much a bit business that is extremely devoted to atoms — classrooms, labs and dorms. Second, we are leaving the era of mass production and entering the era of mass customization. Higher education follows a mass production model where mass customization is possible and we will find increasing pressure to provide customized education. Third, we are shifting from a push economy to a pull economy. In higher education, we could be more responsive to what our clients are asking for. That is not to say that a doctor allows the patient to design his or her own treatments. It is to say that professionals, as well as businesses and other organizations, need to do a better job of listening to their clients.

Should Pitt maintain its exemption under current state Right to Know law?

SMITHERMAN: Given the low percentage (less than 10 percent) of the University’s budget that comes from the commonwealth, the current law (Act 3 of 2008) still seems to be a reasonable one for Pitt and all of the state-related universities. Act 3 was a complete overhaul of the prior law and did extend some provisions of the law to the state-related universities (a financial disclosure requirement which includes information in IRS Form 990 except for individual donor information, the salaries of all officers and directors and the highest 25 salaries paid to employees.) For more information see

If full disclosure were required of the University, details of information unrelated to public funding from the state directly (contracts on purchases, etc.) would become public knowledge and would unfairly put Pitt at a major financial disadvantage relative to our current status.

SPRING: Tough question. For more than a decade I have had live cameras in my office and home attached to the Web. All of my class notes and papers and books are on the Web. I believe in transparency and openness, maybe to a fault. At the same time, I am sensitive to the fact that in our culture objective information can quickly and easily be distorted and misused by adversaries. I agonize over this issue and would like to see more open debate and discussion. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that the last 15 years have seen Pitt’s reputation restored in the city, region and state. In part, I understand that is because we have been judicious about holding our cards close to our vest.

How effective is Pitt’s shared governance system? Questions have arisen as to whether appropriate procedures were followed in the University’s decision to suspend graduate admissions in three arts and sciences departments. What is the Senate’s role in ensuring that University policies and procedures are followed?

SMITHERMAN: According to our bylaws, “Section 1. Purpose: The Senate of the University of Pittsburgh is an official University body for shared governance. Through its various organs, it considers and makes recommendations concerning educational policies and other matters of Universitywide concern. The Senate shall foster discussion and maintain adequate communication channels among students, staff, faculty, administrative officers, and the Board of Trustees on all matters affecting the welfare of the University or its constituent members.”

In “The Latent Organizational Functions of the Academic Senate:  Why Senates Do Not Work But Will Not Go Away” (The Journal of Higher Education, 1989, 60:423-443), Robert Birnbaum makes a strong case that university senates often do not fulfill their manifest function but do have positive influences because of their latent functions. He acknowledges that university senates do fulfill their manifest function in some cases, especially in larger research universities like ours. The manifest mission of a university senate is exactly what is stated in our bylaws. This system works when senates function well, when the university administrations are interested in fruitful interactions and when a collegial and cooperative working relationship is present. All of those ingredients are present at Pitt now. Thus, I am confident that the system is working well at Pitt.

The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences administration made decisions about the future of the graduate programs in classics, German and religious studies that were well within their purview, but were made without strict regard to the University’s policies and procedures. The Senate, with important help from the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors, has been very active in trying to make certain that this issue is resolved in a satisfactory way. (See June 5, 2012, Faculty Assembly minutes:

The Senate’s role in such cases is to observe carefully, identify the problem and to bring the issue to the attention of senior administration with our recommendations and that is exactly what was done.

When this was brought up through the University Senate, the University administration put all final decisions on hold and began a review of the process to make certain that, at least in retrospect, all policies and procedures would be followed carefully. They have also pledged to make certain that there will not be future events like this one. We anticipate that we are near resolution of this issue.

SPRING: Honestly, many faculty have not actively pursued shared governance and some administrators are not as receptive as I might hope. I arrived at Pitt in 1972, five years after the Senate was turned over to the faculty by Chancellor Posvar — the first chancellor not to serve as president of the Senate. I had the opportunity to know presidents like Jack Matthews, Barbara Shore, Toby Tobias, Jim Holland and Nate Hershey. I have vivid memories of Herb Chesler fighting for benefits and welfare. Their style was appropriate to the times. These are different times with strong, competent, cooperative and understanding leaders. Chancellor Nordenberg and former Provost Maher made it easy to trust the administration of the institution to them and we did. Senate presidents John Baker and Michael Pinsky have shaped a new kind of relationship with the administration over the last decade. Many years ago, I spoke about shared governance at a Senate plenary with Chancellor Nordenberg. My take today is the same as it was then. We have strong competent administrators and we sometimes forget that we as faculty have to assert a role in shared governance — not necessarily confrontational, but firmly pointed toward asking for and getting an opportunity to make recommendations in advance of decisions. I believe the pressures of the governor’s cuts to Pitt induced some actions across the University that would be more carefully thought out and deliberated under better circumstances. I am hopeful that the actions of the Senate already underway related to the three graduate programs will lead to a consensus about the right path moving forward.

How would you balance the interests of faculty on the upper and lower campuses? The Pittsburgh and regional campuses?

SMITHERMAN: The Faculty Assembly, according to its bylaws, comprises representatives from the regional campuses and the Oakland campus.  At the Oakland campus representation is apportioned by the discipline or school. On the “lower campus” there is relatively proportional representation from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the professional schools (other than the Schools of the Health Sciences). On the “upper campus” there is relatively proportional representation for all of the Schools of the Health Sciences.

The first key to balancing the interests of faculty from these disciplines is to listen and learn, to understand the mission of each of these areas and the needs of the faculty in these areas to fulfill their missions. The second key is to value, respect and appreciate these disparate missions and the needs of these faculty members in each of these areas in achieving their missions. With this in mind, we can then observe, identify problems and formulate recommendations to the University administration to deal with both the universal and special needs of the faculty in each area.

SPRING: First, related to the upper and lower campus, I do not believe there is a problem. For those who have been here a while, the days of Rhoten Smith and Nathan Stark were very different from the days of James Maher and Arthur Levine. Pitt’s prominence in health research and the massive nature of UPMC create some imbalances, but I believe the University is in the best shape in my memory in terms of balancing those issues.

Oakland and the regionals present a different situation. The balance of research and teaching across the campuses is different, as are the demands on the faculty. It is clear that there are some tensions. As I read the bylaws, all University faculty members are part of the Senate. At the same time, the regional campuses have their own governance structures. I have heard some of the issues, but I don’t at this point see any clear course of action for the Senate. It may be that targeted communications initiatives could be of use in making issues more visible. This is a question that should be addressed with all the involved parties. Surely, technology could obviate the need for separate structures that may have been necessitated historically by physical distance. Then again, once structures are put in place, there is a reluctance to give them up.

Where should the University be cutting costs and where should it be looking for funding?

SMITHERMAN: Chancellor Nordenberg reported to the University Senate in 2012 about the number of economies that have been achieved and, in some cases, the dollar amounts saved. The effort, an ongoing one, has been remarkable, in my view, in decreasing primarily operational costs without any adverse effect on our core missions of teaching, research and service.

They include: channeled spending program and strategic purchasing, $78 million savings over the past four years; budget cuts, $43 million over the past three years; postretirement medical benefits, $30 million over the past four years; contract negotiation for energy, $17 million over the next five years; energy conservation, $8 million over the past four years; IT and telecommunications, $7.2 million over the past four years; employee benefits, $7 million over the past four years; electronic reporting, $1.6 million annually; library savings, $1.7 million over the past four years; increased productivity, administrative restructuring, reduced number of low-enrollment courses, and programmatic consolidation and elimination. We asked Art Ramicone, chief financial officer, and Vice Provost David DeJong to make a presentation to Faculty Assembly on these efforts, as discussed above in the 10 breakthrough steps in the NRC report.  (See Jan. 22, 2013, Faculty Assembly minutes:

Efficiencies of this sort do not hinder our core activities of teaching, research and service missions and, by decreasing operational expenses, free more funds for these core activities. I think that continuing and enhancing these efforts is the best way to try to further contain operating costs.

Senior Vice Chancellor Arthur Levine has noted that Pitt’s percentage of funding from philanthropic sources is relatively low and that increasing it is an important opportunity. I agree, especially since Pittsburgh has such a long history of generous philanthropy.

We should also continue to work to move state funding back to the historical levels of the early 2000s as recommended by the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education, which was chaired by Chancellor Nordenberg. Restoration to those levels would be close to the recommendations for state funding from the NRC report, discussed above. (See the chancellor’s comments at

SPRING: Pitt has done an exceptional job of making itself more efficient over the last 20 years. It has also done a great job of growing.

I think the real question is “Where do we want to be a decade from now?” The chancellor has done a magnificent job with the capital campaign and with situating Pitt as an economic driver in the region. Provosts Maher and Beeson have invigorated academic excellence at all levels. These initiatives should continue: better alumni, government and corporate relations, more talented students, more accomplished faculty, more research funding, etc. If I could add anything to the discussion of a vision, it would again relate to my personal interest in the digital information revolution. I am conservative and like stability. At the same time, I recognize that we are in the midst of a great revolution in how we live, work and play. I would venture to say that the impact of digital information will be as great or greater than the introduction of Gutenberg’s mass production printing. The world and its myriad institutions are being reshaped by digital information. Kodak learned too late. So did Egypt and Syria. Dell and Apple saw the future; so did Amazon and Facebook. Howard Dean and Barack Obama succeeded in changing the political landscape by doing politics in new ways. Higher education will not be immune to the forces acting on our social systems. We need to think, as we will at this year’s Senate plenary, about the future of higher education. Some things will stay the same, but many things have already begun and will continue to change.

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