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October 24, 2013

University Senate Matters:

Smitherman looks back

What I learned from being Senate president last year

SmithermanAs I was honored to be elected as president of the University Senate for the last academic year after more than a decade of service within the Senate, perhaps this column would better be named “What I Relearned and What Was Confirmed From Being the Senate President Last Year.”

My service last year confirmed the extent of extraordinary growth and improvement of the University of Pittsburgh over the last two decades. It has gone from being very good to truly world class in that short span. I feel very fortunate to have been here over the last 23 years.

The year confirmed my impressions that we have a senior University administration that not only is highly competent, hard-working and effective, but also one that is infused with a marvelous humanity and one with whom it is a delight to work. As the next few years look to be as difficult for American universities as the last few have been, it will be important for the faculty to continue to engage with senior University administration, staff and students to continue to find ways not only to survive but to persevere. I set out last year to continue a spirit of Senate leadership that worked with the senior University team, staff and students in a cooperative, collegial and cordial way. I learned, as I hoped, that this approach is not only pleasant but very effective and efficient.

Last year confirmed my belief that our University Senate is meeting its manifest mission of shared governance. It generally is held that only a small minority of University Senates do so and then mostly in large research universities, like ours, and in some larger liberal arts colleges.

I learned, as I feared, that faculty involvement and interest in the University Senate, as in many colleges and universities, is low, with probably fewer than 25 percent of our faculty members being involved. I am grateful and appreciative of those who are. I suspect that some of the lack of interest and involvement owes to problems with communication among the faculty. With that in mind, last year we started a project to substantially upgrade and enhance our website, which is now completed. I am hopeful that faculty members will look at it and learn to use it.

I learned that it is time to take a look at our Senate committee structure. The committees are where much of the work of the Senate begins and is accomplished. This structure has not changed much in recent years, a time of much change within our society and our University. A careful look with an eye toward possible changes and improvements is in order.

Thomas C. Smitherman  is the immediate past president of the University Senate. He can be reached at

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