Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 1, 2014

University Senate Matters:

I generally don’t whine …

MikeSpringIn the 1940s, the University trustees established the University Senate and charged it with keeping communications open among all the constituencies of the University. Over the last 70 years there have been times when the Senate was active and times when it was passive. There were times when we complained and times when we initiated new policy and procedural directions for the University. According to the bylaws of the Senate, the plenary session is the place where the Senate as a whole speaks and acts. In welcoming remarks at this year’s Senate plenary session, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg commented on how productive the plenary session had become and reflected back on years that seemed to focus more on grievances. I concur that meetings focused on the future of the University are better than meetings devoted to complaints about the past.

At the March plenary session, seven of your colleagues did a superb job of describing decades of work in 10-15 minute presentations.  This plenary session was designed to be a venue in which we could talk about how we might move forward with technology. The audience was an embarrassing fraction of the more than 4,500 members of the University Senate. I take responsibility for scheduling it on a cold day at the end of a depressing winter, doing so at a busy time of year right after spring break, and probably for not placing notice of the plenary session in the right venues at the right time. The session was streamed live and recorded, so if you want to view it you can do so by following the links at It is a thought-provoking analysis of the impacts of digital technology on teaching, research and entrepreneurial efforts.

I used “whine” in the title to get your attention. Yes, I wish more of you had stopped by the plenary session, but there will be others that may be of interest to more of you and they will be better advertised. The real point of this column is to ask if you are out there listening and if you are happy with the direction in which Pitt is moving.  More to the point, do you have suggestions on how we might be doing a better job? This year, the Senate set as a priority coming to grips with issues pertaining to part-time and non-tenure-stream faculty. The response made it clear that this was indeed an important issue and under the capable leadership of Vice President Irene Frieze we have made solid progress.  Under the capable leadership of the standing committee chairs we are trying to come to grips with matters pertaining to community and government relations, athletics, benefits, library services, educational policies, budget policies, etc. We established a priority on opening up communications channels. We have made some progress in this respect, but not as much as I would have hoped. On the Senate website we have been asking for your input about various issues: research support, your priorities, etc. For the last month, we have been soliciting your feedback on the issues surrounding online communications. There are a growing number of stories in the news about online communications, i.e. faculty and social media. Some of it is quite disturbing. A couple of the articles are referenced on the Senate website. Should Pitt have a policy and what should it say?

There are other matters on which you might speak up as well. We are in the process of a transition to a new chancellor. The trustees just endorsed new goals for the University. How do you view these goals?  Are they a perfect fit for Pitt or do you think they might be focused in a different way to better guide the University?  The new goals were reported in the University Times  ( and were summarized in the Pitt Chronicle ( What do you think of them?

The most important task with which the Senate is charged is making sure we are all working together to make Pitt a better, stronger, more vital institution. Let the Senate hear from you. Let your voice be heard through the Senate polls (


Michael B. Spring, associate professor in the School of Information Sciences, is president of the University Senate. He can be reached at