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August 29, 2013

University Senate Matters: What’s important to you?

MikeSpringOver the last two and a quarter centuries, the University has evolved in response to changes and challenges. Over the last 20 years, Pitt has benefited from superior leadership, devoted alumni and trustees, and talented students and faculty making a difference in the world. In such an environment, it is possible for faculty to focus only on their core responsibilities of teaching and research.

However, as members of an institution that is committed to shared governance, Pitt’s faculty have another role: Trustees have charged the faculty to assist in institutional governance in areas concerned with the educational and scholarly process. As stated in the University Senate bylaws: “… the University Board of Trustees has authorized the creation of the Senate. … 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.”

There always are developments on the horizon that will be best addressed if our community as a whole is involved. The Senate executive committee is interested in determining what the faculty see as the most important issues to be addressed by the Senate. That will help us to determine how to focus committees and meetings. Your views will determine the topics for our plenary sessions. We welcome the articulation of any topic that you think should be addressed.

Over the past year, a few things have come up that seem to be reasonable candidates:

The report of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education suggested the development of a scorecard to assess our progress and development. What should be the criteria to which we hold ourselves accountable?

Historically, a faculty was made up primarily of tenured faculty along with those in the tenure stream. Today, part-time and adjunct faculty, specially focused faculty positions and other new types of faculty appointments outside the tenure stream increasingly are used to help to make institutions more agile and responsive. What challenges does this movement present and how should the University ensure that this trend does not threaten faculty welfare?

Pitt has committed itself to excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. As the University moves forward, we have begun to define some goals: a broader national and international mix; higher admissions standards; appropriate levels of scholarship support; standards of quality for ongoing programs; a residential experience that includes learning in and out of the classroom. How should the University move forward in pursuit of these goals?

The University has made great strides streamlining its operations and automating processes. What are the ways in which faculty might contribute to this and in which areas are further improvements needed?

Pitt is hoping to broaden its research-funding base. This may include more industry-supported research and new kinds of joint ventures. Are our policies and procedures appropriate and adequate? More importantly, do they foster and encourage these new relationships? How might the University better support and encourage faculty in the management of research?

These are just some of the issues that the Senate could address. I know there are others. What matters most is which issues you want to see addressed. I, along with your representatives and other members of the executive committee, welcome your calls and emails.

Michael Spring is president of the University Senate. He can be reached at 4-9429 or

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