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May 29, 2014

BPC debates impact of ad hoc group to review tenured faculty evaluations

University Senate budget policies committee (BPC) members on May 16 debated the impact of a tenure and academic freedom committee’s (TAFC) resolution to create an ad hoc committee to review guidelines for evaluating tenured faculty and associated salary decisions.

The move to create the ad hoc committee was prompted by a May 2013 address by medical school Dean Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, that detailed a school policy permitting 20-percent pay reductions for tenured faculty who fail to meet performance standards (see University Times, June 13, 2013).

The TAFC resolution calls for the ad hoc committee to “review and summarize currently existing performance evaluation and related salary reduction decision policies that pertain to tenured faculty across and within all schools; make recommendations as to how the principles of shared governance are to be maintained in all University procedures and across all schools that affect the welfare of faculty and … make recommendations for the revision of any and all existing procedures across all schools to assure that said procedures and their consequences:

(i) are equitable and reflective of the criteria for the granting of tenure and the responsibility of tenured faculty (as stated in University publications) and thus consider the balance of scholarship, teaching and service, and

(ii) are applied fairly, transparently and not in an arbitrary manner.”

The resolution is prefaced by a statement that reiterates the importance of tenure, criticizing the medical school policy, without naming it, for “sett[ing] a dangerous precedent” by “explicitly focus[ing] the performance evaluation of faculty, primarily conducting research, on the ability to obtain external funding for the bulk of one’s salary.”

It adds that such policy is “implicitly relegating scholarly contributions, teaching and service to marginal roles in performance evaluation and in determining salary, and thus negates the criteria that are used to grant tenure and the responsibility of tenured faculty” in the faculty handbook and the school’s guidelines for faculty appointment and promotion.

It calls the medical school policy “antithetical to the fundamental protections afforded by tenure … [and] sufficiently vague as to allow a targeted individual, or group of individuals, to be evaluated in an arbitrary, capricious and unfair manner,” and notes that TAFC already has received grievances from “several tenured faculty.”

BPC chair John Baker, an emeritus faculty member in the School of Dental Medicine, said that members of BPC and the Senate’s bylaws and procedures committee will be part of the ad hoc committee.

BPC member Michael Spring, who is Senate president, was pleased that the resolution included a University-wide review of evaluation procedures. “The sense is that it’s a good time to do a review of the annual review for faculty,” Spring said. He also hoped the committee dealt with this broad question, rather than with individual faculty cases, since the University does not report on the number of faculty who receive salary reductions. “We never quite got at that sense, is this something we need to be concerned about University-wide, or is it a couple of cases?” Spring said.

Calling for the University to release these figures as “appropriately aggregated” data, so that individual faculty reductions could not be pinpointed, Spring said he believed Pitt likely would face tougher decisions about annual salary increases in the near future. “I gather we’re not done yet with the state appropriation [shortfall]. So there’s more money that’s going to need to be made up….”

Baker noted that Pitt Advocates, a network of alumni, faculty, staff and students who support the University, is asking members to visit their government representatives to lobby for a better appropriation from Harrisburg — or “that we at least get what we got last year.”

“Advocacy would be great,” said David DeJong, vice provost for academic planning and resources management and a chancellor’s liaison to BPC, presented information on tuition discounting during  BPC’s closed session. “It’s an election year and we could use all the help we can get.”

BPC member Phil Wion, emeritus faculty member, added: “There is that question of principle”: whether tenured faculty should receive a lowered salary “under any circumstances.”

“The way I read AAUP [American Association of University Professors],” said Spring, “the guarantee of continued employment is not a guarantee of continued salary.”

Salary can be cut “for cause — following a disciplinary hearing,” said Baker. But that had not always happened in recent cases, he added.

“The Senate will have a positive impact if it does it coherently,” said Spring of the University-wide evaluation review. “I’m very optimistic, but it’s thorny. …”


In other news:

• Baker noted that the Senate’s ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream (NTS) faculty presented recommendations in April for University policies toward the review and promotion of such faculty but the recommendations have yet to receive Senate approval. “I think this would be a priority item for the fall” for BPC, he said, especially considering that NTS faculty make up the large majority of faculty in the health science schools.

Committee members also said issues surrounding part-time faculty should be considered; half of the professors in the School of Dental Medicine, for instance, are part-time faculty.

There also are widely differing opinions among full-time faculty about part-time and adjunct faculty, Spring added. “Every faculty member at this institution is blind and has their hand on a different part of the elephant,” he said. “There’s no ill will, there’s no nastiness, I just think people have different things in their head,” he said, adding: “There’s no problem with adjunct faculty.”

He suggested that Senate committees concerned about this issue should not wait for formal resolutions to cooperate. “Conversations between the committees: If it makes sense to you, get it started.”

• DeJong said the University planning and budgeting committee had approved the annual attribution study, which details expenses and revenues for University academic units and other responsibility centers. Because BPC did not have a quorum in May and was not likely to have more members at its June meeting, Baker suggested that the report be presented at BPC’s September meeting.

• The committee also decided not to elect new officers at this meeting, choosing instead to conduct the nomination and election process via email.

—Marty Levine