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February 20, 2014

Assembly OKs electronic committee votes

Faculty Assembly has approved a bylaws change permitting University Senate standing committees to vote electronically. The change, recommended by the Senate bylaws and procedures committee, moves next to Senate Council for action.

Senate President Michael Spring noted that some committee chairs already are using electronic voting.

On Feb. 18 the Assembly tabled a second bylaws proposal that would shift standing committee officers’ terms from the current June 1-May 31 to July 1-June 30 and require election of standing committee officers to be held by June 30.

Irene Frieze, Senate vice president, expressed concern with the timing, noting that although new committee members are seated in May, some standing committees do not meet in summer, potentially leaving leadership in limbo until fall. She added that faculty often travel internationally in summer and may not have access to electronic communication.

Linda Frank, Senate secretary, noted that some committees — tenure and academic freedom, for instance — conduct business year-round. “Once committee members are elected, we need to move forward with the work of the committees,” she said.

Bylaws committee co-chair Scott Nelson agreed to take the proposed amendment back to the committee for further clarification.

The Assembly also approved the Senate athletics committee’s recommendation against creating a Senate athletics representative, as proposed by the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA).

As requested at the Jan. 21 Assembly meeting, athletics committee co-chair Jay Irrgang presented details prior to the vote.  Irrgang explained that COIA is an ad hoc alliance of 61 faculty senates from NCAA football bowl subdivision schools that aims to provide a faculty voice on intercollegiate sports issues such as academic integrity and student-athlete welfare.

Irrgang said the committee in 2005 reviewed Pitt’s policies in light of an earlier invitation to join COIA. It recommended against joining, he said, due in part to the fact that “there’s really no formal governance structure for COIA. There’s no bylaws, no formal policies governing its actions. The direction for COIA is provided by a steering committee, but it’s not clear how one becomes a member of the steering committee.”

In addition, the committee in 2005 examined Pitt’s policies in light of COIA recommendations for academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics. “The review concluded that the University of Pittsburgh met or exceeded all the best practices.”

Benefits and welfare committee report

The Senate benefits and welfare committee’s goal this academic year is to increase awareness of Pitt benefits, committee chair Angelina Riccelli told the Assembly. “We feel that HR does a great job of communicating all the benefits that are available to faculty and staff,” but employees often don’t examine the benefits information they receive closely enough. “Then when we need it, we have questions.”

She said the committee has invited University Times coverage of its meetings and that it is collaborating with HR on producing columns on benefits for faculty and staff.

Riccelli noted that HR is making access to TIAA-CREF financial advisory sessions more convenient by arranging for representatives to visit schools and departments across campus rather than have employees come to the TIAA-CREF office.

Plans are in the works to extend the service to Vanguard participants as well.

She said meetings over the past year have included sessions on retiree open enrollment, the UPMC Health Plan, the Affordable Care Act, participation in the Panther Advocate health care option, life insurance and Assist America global emergency medical services benefits.

Benefits and welfare also is interested in tobacco-free campus efforts that will take effect July 1 at UPMC, she said.

“Our goal is to communicate and educate,” Riccelli said, urging Assembly members to share suggestions on how the committee can improve communication.

Spring solicited Assembly’s unanimous endorsement for the committee’s efforts to raise awareness on available benefits. “It is indeed a good thing for standing committees, particularly for benefits and welfare, to undertake all steps they find available to increase communications with faculty and staff as a whole to benefit everyone,” he said.

Senate plenary session

Spring announced that seven speakers have been invited to the Senate’s March 18 plenary session, “The Research University in the Age of Digital Information.”

They are:

  • Chandralekha Singh of physics, director of Pitt’s Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center, who will address cognitive issues in learning physics and development/evaluation of research-based curricula.
  • Cynthia Lance-Jones of neurobiology, assistant dean for medical student research, who will address the integrated studies course and related technology use in medical education.
  • Peter Brusilovsky, chair of information science and technology, who will talk about adaptive tutoring systems.
  • Tony Gaskew, director of Pitt-Bradford’s criminal justice program and coordinator of UPB’s criminal forensic studies, who will talk about instructional and outreach use of live crime scene video in his courses.
  • David Birnbaum, chair of Slavic languages and literatures, who will talk about digital humanities.
  • Heidi Donovan of nursing, who will talk about web-based symptom management and psycho-educational interventions to improve outcomes for patients with cancer and their family caregivers.
  • Christian Schunn of psychology, the intelligent systems program, learning science and policy and the Learning Research and Development Center, who will talk about research on and use of peer review systems in instruction as well as commercialization of that technology.

“We hope the exposition will inform the processes of supporting new approaches to instruction, research and entrepreneurship as well as other aspects of University operation,” Spring said.

“The plenary will be streamed live using Mediasite and then archived for future use. Audience members will have an opportunity to participate using a variety of interactive media during the presentation. I hope it will be a little bit of practicing what we’re preaching and talking about.”

Graduate program suspensions

Spring commented on the provost’s decision to close graduate programs in religious studies and continue for a limited time suspensions of the graduate programs in classics and German. (See Feb. 6 University Times.)

“As Provost Beeson noted in her communication to the University community, the review by the Senate budget policies committee found the proper procedures had been followed in working through these issues. Several of us expressed our appreciation of Provost Beeson’s efforts to make sure every voice was heard. I’ve also concluded that my sense of our SBPC review was that while the process was technically appropriate, there was, as is almost always the case, room for improvement.  Some involved faculty felt that the early exchange of information, and dialog relating to that, was lacking.  I’ve indicated to the provost directly and I indicate to you that I hope, in light of the rather prolonged and contentious nature of this decision, the provost and deans will redouble their efforts to engage faculty in early collegial discussion where all the involved parties can come to the conclusion that the decisions made, even when distasteful, are in the best interests of the institution.

“Ideally, shared governance is not simply the review of decisions and plans but active involvement in their formulation at the earliest stages. I do congratulate all involved, as painful as it was, for the professional way in which this dialog has been conducted. I especially appreciate the chairs, and their comments in public and in private. It was just a very difficult situation, which I think everybody hoped might have come out somewhat differently. But it seems to be a reasonable decision.”

UCIS director search

Spring said the search for a new director for the University Center for International Studies remains in the early stages. “The committee and the search firm are beginning to identify and make initial contacts with potential candidates,” he said.

Senate publications

Spring said he soon will review with committee chairs a draft version of a tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) operations manual compiled by Thomas Smitherman.

“I have been thoroughly impressed with the complexity of the rules, recommendations, procedures and the things that the TAFC chairs have to deal with,” Spring said. “We thought it was time to begin to look at how we might capture that corporate memory.”

Spring said he has completed a brief draft of an early history of the Senate. “It describes the events leading up to the trustees’ decision to create the Senate and what Chancellor (John G.)Bowman was going through. … For me, it informs a lot of what I think about as I think about what we need to be about and what we need to discuss to make this a yet greater institution, a yet better institution.”

Scholarly publication

In response to a prior faculty query regarding ways of handling inquiries emailed to a corresponding author who has retired or left the University (see Jan. 23 University Times), Spring said that Tim Deliyannides, director of the University Library System’s Office of Scholarly Publishing, suggested that the ORCID (open researcher and contributor ID) system provides a unique, persistent digital identifier that scientific authors can use to ensure continuity.

Although the identifier can’t be added to papers retroactively, if researchers obtained and used such an identifier on their papers, they could update their contact information, Spring said.

NTS faculty ad-hoc committee

Spring said this committee has continued to gather data and information on non-tenure-stream faculty issues from across the University. “The committee has been very consistent in posting their agendas, their minutes and their upcoming meetings,” Spring said, urging members to make use of the site for information on all committees.

—Kimberly K. Barlow