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April 3, 2014


University Senate presidential candidates

Online voting for University Senate officers and Faculty Assembly members is set for April 4-19.

In this year’s race for the Senate presidency, incumbent Michael B. Spring faces Alexandre R. Vieira.


spring 2014

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). Spring has been an associate professor in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute since 2009  and a global studies-affiliated faculty member since 2008.

Spring’s experience on the Senate includes serving as Senate president (2013-14) and 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 was a member of 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), and was a member of 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).


VieiraVieira, an associate professor of oral biology and pediatric dentistry in the School of Dental Medicine, has been a Pitt faculty member since 2005. He has been director of clinical research in the school since 2007 as well as dental medicine’s director of student research since 2012.

Vieira has served on Faculty Assembly since 2012.  He has been a member of Pitt’s Institutional Review Board since 2007 and a member of the University Research Council since 2012.


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

Susan J. Skledar, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics in the School of Pharmacy, is unopposed for secretary.

Officers serve one-year terms that begin July 1.


Why should people vote for you? What have you accomplished as a member of the University Senate and what issues will you focus on as president?

SPRING: People should vote for the candidate they believe will move the goals of shared governance forward. This must be the mantra of the Senate. It is clearer to me today than it was a year ago that the operation of the Senate is a critical component of what makes Pitt so special. It is unlikely that all, or even a majority, of the faculty will be actively engaged in the governance process. It is, however, critical that a representative sample of the faculty engage in the process and help to shape the direction of the University.

Looking back, it seems like I have accomplished very little in the last nine months as president. I do believe we have done a decent job of making sure our voice was heard in searches and that we have communicated with our colleagues who wanted to be involved about important issues like governance of athletics, research initiatives, non-tenure stream issues, etc. At the same time, we have not made anywhere near as much progress in transparency and engagement as I might have hoped.

VIEIRA: Like all my colleagues, I have to work hard to excel in three very different areas: teaching, service and scholarship. This is not an easy task but can be very fulfilling. Every day I have to adjust to address the unexpected: there is my research program to attend, students requiring attention, a committee meeting. There are not enough hours in the day for everything, so commonly I bring some of these things home to finish. But I keep my priorities straight: family first, 30 minutes at least every day for my cardio exercises. Enough sleep. I am like everyone else. I understand. But the reason people should vote for me is that I am a good listener. And I know I do not know everything. I am willing to learn and work with people who know better. I have served the Senate in several capacities. I was an elected member of the bylaws committee. I am a current member of the Faculty Assembly, completing the term of a colleague who prematurely passed away. I am currently serving the elections committee as well. I understand what the Senate is about: shared governance; prioritizing issues that are relevant to faculty no matter their primary school affiliations. It is a forum for thorough deliberation that provides insight and guidance to the administration. I also understand faculty are part of a larger structure that includes students and staff. It is the common goal of making the University the best it can be that guides my principles and motivation to come to work every day.

What is your plan for engaging faculty in the Senate? Why should faculty get involved?

SPRING: I have no new solutions to this beyond what we started this year. The external website and the internal Senate portal have been revamped to be more usable, more informative and more directed to enabling easy faculty involvement. We have encouraged as much openness as is possible in Senate activities and have welcomed expanded coverage by the University Times. The Senate Matters column has been revitalized and we have worked hard to make sure senior administrators are aware of concerns raised both by individual faculty and the standing committees. As appropriate, we have answered questions from the public media about our activities.

Faculty should be involved because they are a key partner in setting the direction for the University and making it happen. I am still hopeful that we can get more faculty to share their views, but the onus is on the leadership to ask for their opinions in a way that makes it easy for busy faculty to contribute. I would like to think that the faculty who are involved at the current time are doing such a good job that the majority of the faculty are satisfied with the results, but I believe the reality is that Pitt is a good place to work and there are not many issues that would stir the faculty to greater activity.

VIEIRA: For as long as I have been here at the University, about 20 percent of our faculty have participated in Senate-related activities. So, I agree we would all benefit from more faculty involvement. I agree letters and email messages can just go so far. The revitalization of the website was definitely a step in the right direction.

My initial proposal is to engage the members of the Faculty Assembly more directly. We all attend the meetings but most of us remain passive, just listening. This is not a bad thing and we can benefit from input from everyone. So my interest is being proactive and inquiring of each school, through their faculty member representatives at the Faculty Assembly, what are the issues they are facing, seeking input or support? This can be a starting point for identifying topics that are relevant across multiple schools that are yet to be evaluated by the Faculty Assembly. In other words, is it more about what faculty want to discuss or be informed about rather than what I think should be discussed? It is a faculty-centered approach. And after one year of implementing this approach, the outcome I would like to see is if there was any difference in faculty engagement at the level of the schools in providing input before and after faculty representatives actively reached their peers. Another short-term outcome is getting faculty who never engaged with the Senate interested in serving on committees and at the Faculty Assembly.

Is the tenure system healthy at Pitt? What protections are needed for non-tenure stream and part-time faculty? Would you support unionization by adjuncts?

SPRING: The tenure stream is exceptionally healthy at Pitt. The standards for tenure continue to increase as should be the case with our increasing prominence. The faculty review process instituted in 1999 continues to develop and mature. There are currently difficult issues being addressed by the medical school faculty related to declines in research funding. This must be of great concern to the Senate given that they represent more than 50 percent of our membership. The first step is for the faculty of the School of Medicine to work through their own processes. Of particular concern is the development of a fair and equitable performance review system. I think it may be time for an institution-wide review of policies and practices in this area.

Regards non-tenure stream and part-time faculty, actions by the provost and many of the deans over the last several years have been quite extraordinary in addressing equality issues for non-tenure stream and part-time faculty. I would note in particular the many initiatives by Dean (N. John) Cooper and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The Senate is currently looking at these issues. I am confident that Pitt is on much sounder ground than many other institutions.

Regards the third question, an adjunct faculty member is by definition an individual “whose primary employment is outside an academic unit of the University, but who is fully qualified professionally. …” As I see it, unionization related to their work at Pitt makes little sense. They may well be making more money with better benefits in their full-time job than Pitt faculty make. But let’s ask the question I believe was intended — about unionization of part-time faculty whose primary source of benefits and income might well be their salary from Pitt. I would still say no. I no longer carry a union card, but I did when I worked tug boats and freighters, and I thought that made sense. Professionally, I have a firm commitment to shared governance and while there is still much debate about the 1980 Yeshiva decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, I share the position that faculty members engage in managerial activities and are therefore excluded from collective bargaining. I believe that professionals should not unionize. If I were convinced that part-time faculty had no role in governance, I might well change my view. I think it would be unfortunate for the teaching profession, but might be necessary for the welfare of the faculty.

VIEIRA: If I had a chance to ask all the faculty at Pitt if they have a mentor or someone that can serve as a mentor in the areas of teaching, service and scholarship and the answer is yes, I would say the tenure and non-tenure streams (including part-timers) are healthy and nurturing systems. Mentoring and mentorship is the single most important element for individual success in an academic setting. For Pitt to keep growing and standing out as a leading institution, faculty, students and staff are to embody the pride of our colors. So, both tenure and non-tenure faculty need to receive clear guidance and defined goals to succeed. Annual faculty evaluations are key to this, which highlights the importance department chairs and faculty supervisors play in this process.

The current economic climate adds complexity to the question and, in the case of non-tenured faculty, life based on annual contracts gives little sense of stability. On the other hand, critics of the tenure system claim it fosters less competition and stagnation. These are complex issues that deserve careful deliberation. I am not opposed to discussing the idea of unionization but I am reluctant to entertain anything that can bring further divide. We already belong to different departments and schools. The university structure naturally pulls us apart. If a new approach creates a chance for uniting rather than creating a new silo, chances are it will be better received by the community as a whole.

How healthy is Pitt’s shared governance system? How can the Senate ensure that faculty have a relevant voice in decision-making?

SPRING: I believe Pitt has an exceptionally strong tradition, in no small part based on the commitment of the trustees and the personal style of Chancellor (Mark) Nordenberg. Some administrators are less enthusiastic; some are equally enthusiastic. I believe the bylaws of the Senate and the relationship of the Senate to the Board of Trustees has a strong and rich enough history that if the faculty were, for some reason, denied an appropriate voice, the system and its safeguards would work to ensure our voice. It would be a sad day for Pitt if that had to be tested. I am very cognizant of the history of the Senate and its creation by the trustees to ensure faculty had a voice in setting the directions, policies and practices of the institution. While we are often involved, I must admit to being surprised when I read in the March 6 University Times that the trustees had adopted a set of new priorities for Pitt. I would have thought some discussion of those priorities in the early stages  would have involved the Senate. That seems to be contrary to our goals.

VIEIRA: The Senate as designed by the University Board of Trustees is there to make recommendations on the matters of educational policies and all the matters of University-wide concern. In my years in the Senate, that is exactly what the Senate has done. I have never witnessed an instance when the University Senate did not have a chance to provide insight and voice the results of faculty deliberations on a variety of matters.

To continue to function as a true body of shared governance, the Senate needs to continue to proactively reach the administration to provide insight and share the perception of the faculty that results from the deliberations at Faculty Assembly. These years at the Senate I had the chance to interact with two faculty members who served as president of the Senate: (Michael) Pinsky and (John) Baker. From both I got a sense that they could always voice concerns and share insight with the University administrators.

I believe faculty will be better served if we are proactive rather than only reactive. There will always be issues that suddenly come to everyone’s attention, and those deserve deliberation at that point. Indeed, the active identification of matters of University-wide relevance and working closely with members of the Faculty Assembly to obtain insight from each individual school on the topics they have brought up will create an environment of active and rich exchange. Another interesting thing is the tendency to focus on the negative, and it would be great if this process allowed for shared experiences of things that are working in one particular school and could be used by others.

As the University prepares for its first new chancellor in nearly two decades, where do you see Pitt heading? In what areas should the University consider changing its direction or maintaining its current course?

SPRING: I see Pitt continuing its move to national and international prominence. I have confidence that the new blood and the old blood are going to work as partners to seize new opportunities as they arise, just as we have done over the last 20 years. It is important to keep in mind that it is going to be impossible to move up 20 more positions in federal funding — given that only five are left! I think the quality of our incoming students will continue to improve as will the quality of our faculty and the significance of their research and scholarship. We can continue to improve our relationship with alumni and with the local community, as well as with local and national businesses. I think we can embrace being a university in the digital age — and I don’t mean MOOCs. We can do a better job of embracing digital technology in ways that make sense. I see a lot of hope for the economy of western Pennsylvania. Pitt has made a difference in keeping our region buoyant during the great recession. I believe that as we move forward economically, Pitt will contribute to and hopefully reap some benefits from that expansion.

VIEIRA: As a member of the Association of American Universities, Pitt has kept its main focus on creating, preserving and distributing knowledge. Pitt should continue its focus as it needs to quickly adapt to what King and Sen last year defined as a four-sided “economic attack” on universities like Pitt: the Internet; distance learning; for-profit universities, and online startups. The business model of a university like Pitt combines tuition revenue, sponsored research and philanthropy. But there is just so much the University can increase tuition, fees and students, and dollars in research and philanthropy are in decline.

The main change in direction our University should make is applying social science research to our pedagogy: We still primarily use the traditional lectures, a millennia-old format, and it is time to leverage social networking, introduce peer instruction and other collaborative approaches.

There is also a political scenario building up to create opportunities for educating disadvantaged students. Pitt should seriously consider reaching out to these students.

Finally, Pitt students should be part of the exceptional and exciting world of research. They should be at the table when discoveries are made, they should witness that moment when, for the first time, a discovery is announced. One of my greatest memories as a young researcher was the day a colleague announced he found the mutation that caused a craniofacial syndrome that is a phenocopy of isolated cleft lip and palate. It is one thing to read about it but the other is having this memory that I was there.

What role can faculty play in addressing funding issues, both in terms of federal research funding and state appropriations? How should University administrators address these issues? What funding streams should the University be developing?

SPRING: The faculty has played the major role in moving Pitt to funded research prominence. It is rank-and-file faculty who write proposals, conduct research and publish the results of that work. In terms of state appropriations, the role is less clear. The governor and the legislature seem to be skeptical about the importance of Pitt to the economy of the commonwealth. Both of my sons decided to attend Pitt. (Each looked at and applied to eight schools, of which 75 percent were out of state.) After school, both decided to stay in Pittsburgh because jobs were growing in their fields and they were well prepared by Pitt for those jobs. My oldest purchased a home in East Liberty and is engaged in helping revitalize the neighborhood. Honestly, I am not sure what more our administration can do to help our governor and legislators see the impact of our institution.

In terms of what funding streams we should be developing, I have no special insight. As new businesses emerge and begin to invest in R&D, we need to be ready to work with them. There is also a growing amount of philanthropic money coming online that might be tapped. We have done extremely well with alumni in recent years, but others do better. Finally, I think our history with software startups has been weaker than other institutions. We might look again at why this is so difficult for us. In a global economy, we can continue to develop new relationships around the world. I worked with universities in Thailand and was impressed with the opportunities there. Two years ago, I spent time at the top university in Ethiopia. While I am bullish about expanded relationships in Asia and South America, I believe African countries like Ethiopia present a unique new opportunity.

VIEIRA: The role of faculty is to consider multiple sources of funding beyond federal, including state, private and foundations. I believe our faculty is already doing that. University administrators want to make sure processes are streamlined, particularly in regards to industry money. And there is room for innovation. One point for discussion is instead of the University funding research projects, the University could create programs to fund the researchers and/or bold ideas. This model would incentivize high-risk/high-reward ideas, and focus on the faculty, their potential and their accomplishments. A necessary step is creating a transparent method of evaluation and determination of successful outcomes. To put value on specific types of research is always a challenge. One idea is funding faculty, based on their primary school affiliation, and in that sense the University would have a broad representation of faculty they are supporting. The other approach is a focus on pedagogy, which will translate into innovative teaching and put us in the vanguard in this arena.

What best practices from other universities are worth adopting at Pitt?

SPRING: I think I have already answered that. I hear CMU and Georgia Tech often mentioned when there is talk about technology management. I’ve heard several universities mentioned as having better social media presence. I have heard Cornell and Stanford mentioned from time to time related to digital information repositories. But I wouldn’t focus our attention that way. We should continue to examine and benchmark our systems to make sure they are as good as they can be and improve them as we can.

On the other hand, Pitt tends to self-criticism and surely could not be criticized as being braggadocious. One part of our pride in Pitt should be letting others know where we demonstrate best practices that might be emulated by our peers. Pitt exhibits best practices in a number of areas. My personal nominations would include: preservation and integration of historic facilities; sustainable architecture and practices; beautification and integration of an urban campus; student engagement in community activity; a model for shared governance; a model for fiscal responsibility.

VIEIRA: Modern and innovative community outreach programs, pedagogic revolutionary approaches, and innovative alum engagement are topics we should consider. A recent discussion point that caught my eye was the suggestion that we have inflated grades across the board in higher education. Our students expect nothing but A’s, and course/faculty evaluations will reflect the discontent for lower grades, which in turn will impact teachers if those evaluations are used for decisions regarding promotion, contract renewals, etc.

Several universities are starting to enhance processes that involve peer collaboration and review of teaching. When it comes to course content, our own colleagues are better equipped to provide direct and constructive feedback. I see the value of peer assessment with the goal of improving teaching and learning and formally structuring a process of this nature here at Pitt may be highly beneficial.