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May 16, 2013

Discussion continues about med school pay

Thomas C. Smitherman

Thomas C. Smitherman

Discussion is continuing about some planned faculty salary cuts in the medical school.

University Senate President Thomas C. Smitherman offered an update in his May 8 report to Senate Council and promised he would make additional comments at the group’s June meeting. In addition, the issue will be addressed at Dean Arthur S. Levine’s annual state of the medical school address on May 22.

Smitherman, who is a School of Medicine faculty member, summarized the issue in his May 8 report to Senate Council. “In recent months there have been a number of requests from tenured faculty in the School of Medicine, principally from the basic sciences, who are not also members of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians, to the tenure and academic freedom committee for guidance, advice and informal mediation about planned reductions in their salaries for next academic year. One of the most common concerns was lack of knowledge on the part of faculty members about University of Pittsburgh and School of Medicine policies and procedures on this issue,” he said, noting that the relevant documents are being posted on the School of Medicine web site.

He said the Senate’s executive committee met with Levine, who also is senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, last month. Smitherman said that he and past Senate president Michael Pinsky, a faculty member in the School of Medicine, who are executive committee members, offered comments on Levine’s draft of an updated statement on tenured faculty salaries and of proposed new faculty performance documents.

“Here’s my understanding of where the issue stands now,” said Smitherman. First, “There’s no guarantee of salary associated with conferral of tenure anywhere on the University of Pittsburgh campus,” he said.

Second, “Policies on tenured faculty salaries and updated performance appraisal forms represent official policies that have been, so far as we are concerned on the executive committee, approved properly according to University and School of Medicine policies and procedures.”

Third, “The role of the tenure and academic freedom committee in this regard is properly focused on providing guidance and informal mediation to faculty members about salary decisions in those cases where a salary decision or set of salary decisions is part of a pattern of conduct that, taken as a whole, may constitute, according to the University guidelines, the basis for a grievance.”

Smitherman added, “Dissatisfaction with a performance appraisal decision that is perceived to affect academic freedom is within the purview of the tenure and academic freedom committee, according to University policy.”

Maria Kovacs, secretary of the Senate’s tenure and academic freedom committee, commented that faculty have continued to be concerned both about “the lack of faculty input into the decision-making and questions about the principles of shared governance into the decision-making about salaries.”

Smitherman responded, “We continue to work to make certain to make readily available to all the faculty members of the School of Medicine all of the relevant documents.”

In addition, he said, “We also have worked hard to make certain that we understand the bylaws of the School of Medicine, which are called the plan of organization, which are on the web site.”

Smitherman continued: “In the plan of organization, the specific duties of the faculty and the executive committee seem, to my mind — obviously there can be differences of opinion — to be laid out: That the faculty are responsible for education, for the curriculum, for passing or failing students, for promoting them, for accepting them into medical school, for proposing them for graduation,” he said.

“The executive committee is indeed held to be responsible to the faculty but it also very clearly says that the executive committee is primarily responsible for the policies of the School of Medicine,” Smitherman said, adding that the rules of organization likewise state that as few as five tenured faculty members can request that a meeting of the medical school faculty be called. “None has been called in my recent memory,” he said.

Smitherman urged medical school faculty to attend Levine’s state of the medical school May 22 address, which will be at 4:30 p.m. in Scaife Hall lecture rooms 5 and 6.

The address, titled “Faculty Performance: Opportunities in a Time of Threats,” also will be streamed live through a webcast accessible at


In other business:

• Smitherman provided an update on the planned University working group on sustainability, which will replace the Senate plant utilization and planning committee’s sustainability subcommittee.

Tentatively, plans call for the group to be made up of two faculty members nominated by the University Senate, two students nominated by student sustainability organizations with the assistance of the dean of students, two staff members and two senior administrators. Ad hoc members from inside or outside the University could be added as needed, Smitherman said.

Smitherman said the working group would meet three times per year and would make periodic reports to the public with meetings to be convened by operations staff under the direction of executive vice chancellor Jerome Cochran.

Final details are expected to be available at the Senate’s June 12 meeting, he said.

Smitherman noted other activity on Pitt sustainability efforts, citing the University’s appearance in the Princeton Review guide (see May 2 University Times) and the recent student sustainability symposium during which Pitt’s LEED projects were outlined (see April 18 University Times).

• The issue surrounding the suspension of graduate programs in German, classics and religious studies is expected to be resolved soon, Smitherman said, adding that a proposal approved by the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Graduate Council now is under review by the Dietrich School Council.

• David Gau, Graduate and Professional Student Government president, announced that orientation for graduate and professional students is set for Sept. 5.

Gau, a former Pitt Pathfinder, added that he is interested in starting a similar Pitt ambassador program for graduate students.

“I have a lot of passion and pride for Pitt and I really hope to share that experience with new prospective students. I found it surprising that there’s nothing like that for graduate students here at Pitt.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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