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June 12, 2014

Assembly endorses closed meeting guidelines

Exactly who may attend University Senate standing committee meetings? And who may attend a closed committee meeting or executive session?

Senate bylaws state: “All meetings are normally open to members of the University community, although standing committees may meet in executive session when necessary and appropriate for dealing with confidential matters.”

However, many Senate standing committees routinely bar the University Times from meetings and questions have arisen as to who should be included in executive sessions.

While there has been no movement toward a bylaws change, amid debate in Faculty Assembly in recent months (see Jan. 23 University Times), the Senate bylaws and procedures committee has developed guidelines to address who may attend the committee sessions where much of the Senate’s work is done.

Bylaws and procedures committee chair Scott Nelson said, “We felt it was worthwhile defining what an open versus an executive session or closed meeting might be.”

With a show of hands, Faculty Assembly on June 3 endorsed the committee’s proposed update to the Senate administrative handbook:

“Open meetings will be open to all faculty, students, staff and administrators of the University and the staff of University-operated, -sanctioned or -affiliated news sources (henceforth defined as the ‘University community’). Closed or executive session meetings will be restricted to elected, pro-tem and administrative and executive committee liaison members as well as guests invited or approved by the committee chair.”

The handbook update, which does not require a formal vote, is set to be presented next at Senate Council.

“There are two important things you’ve done here,” Senate President Michael Spring said regarding the handbook update: “To make sure the University press — the University Times and the student newspaper  — are invited; and I think we also make clear that even when a meeting is closed, it’s (for) all the pro-tems, liaisons and other people that are involved. … This does a great service to clarify that.”

In response to Assembly member John Lyon’s observation that there is potential for abuse of the power to close a meeting, Nelson said a committee chair may close a meeting at his or her discretion. Committee members may move to close a meeting if they feel a topic is of particular sensitivity, “but it’s by a vote of the committee,” Nelson said.

Spring said, “The majority of the work of the Senate is done by the standing committees. I just think there has been a lot of pressure on standing committees to deal more frequently in closed session than in open.”

Plant utilization and planning committee (PUP) member Paul Munro said that when he was PUP chair, a request by the University Times to attend was discussed at a PUP meeting “and representatives from the administration made clear that they would not be as forthright if the press was there. And so it was just generally the policy that the press was not invited.”

Spring said he recognizes that Senate committees deal with sensitive matters. “PUP has been in a unique position because they often deal with things before city planning sees them. That’s the way faculty are able to make input into what the University’s doing. And I think that’s important,” Spring said.

“PUP deals with a lot a sensitive issues. But they deal with a lot of issues that could be open: For example, classroom management is one of PUP’s concerns … the same thing for technology management.”

The policy of keeping committee meetings closed has become “too codified,” Spring said, adding that although he understands the reason for the administration’s request that PUP meetings be closed, “I think that’s unfortunate … I just think it’s too global.”

Spring said, “If a committee has decided that all of their meetings are closed, which they can do, I’m going to continue to ask why — and I’ll ask it of the chancellor and (Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran).”

In response to an inquiry by Assembly member Marianne Novy as to whether to assume a closed session had been conducted when committee meeting minutes are not posted on the Senate website, Spring said that a delay in posting typically is the result of “schedules, workload and responsibilities” and that some committees are more fastidious than others in posting.

He added, “If any decision is made in closed session, it must be written — described and the vote announced — not the discussion, but the decision. That is in the bylaws.”

Nelson said, “Meetings can have closed portions. They don’t have to be entirely closed, so any open portion should have accompanying minutes available to be posted.”

Senate Vice President Irene Frieze added that minutes are not posted until they have been approved by the committee, “so if a committee hasn’t met for a while, it could be delayed.”


Standing committee election deadline approved

The Assembly also approved a bylaws amendment that changes the terms of office for standing committee officers (currently June 1-May 30) to July 1-June 30, and tasks the sitting chair with organizing the election of a new chair and secretary (by electronic means, if necessary) by July 1.

The change in the officers’ terms gives the committees more time to elect new officers after the Senate committee elections conclude in late May. Requiring officer elections to be held by July 1 ensures there is no gap in committee leadership.

Nelson said that although committee chairs typically continued in their duties unofficially after their term concluded to ensure continuity, “there have been instances where, in the absence of an administrative head, committees have gone for extended periods of time without a chairman.”

Senate past president Thomas C. Smitherman expressed his support for the changes. “I see enormous potential in making ourselves in the spring get things organized for the next academic year,” he said, adding that if elections are put off until fall, “Delay leads to delay and things may not really get rolling until October or November, so I think there’s tremendous power in this sort of inherent motivation to get organized and get motivated for the next term.”

The proposed bylaws change also must be approved by Senate Council, which met June 11, after this issue of the University Times went to press.


President’s report

In his report to the assembly:

  • Spring noted that the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) has established a subcommittee, chaired by Barry Gold, to look into policies regarding faculty online speech.
  • Spring reported that he has been struggling to get a balanced roster to represent issues across all the University’s schools on an ad hoc committee on faculty reviews and salary decisions. He hopes to finalize the committee membership within a month.
  • Spring said interest is continuing to grow for a fall Senate plenary on the topic of data management and governance, with plans for deposition of research data stores.


Accreditation-related changes

In other business, chancellor’s liaison to the Senate educational policies committee Juan Manfredi, vice provost for undergraduate studies, reported on new standards that have been proposed by the regional organization that accredits the University.

Accreditation, Manfredi said, ensures that institutions meet basic quality standards and encourages institutional self-improvement through periodic external review.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education most recently reaccredited the University in 2012. (See Sept. 13, 2012, University Times.) Institutions are reaccredited every 10 years, but progress reports must be submitted in the fifth year, Manfredi said. A committee will be organized next year to begin drafting the review report that is due in 2017, he said.

Manfredi said Middle States began revising its 14 accreditation standards last year. Revisions were developed in accordance with four key guiding principles: mission-centric quality assurance; the student learning experience; continuous improvement, and supporting innovation, he said.

The proposed revisions ( reduce the standards to seven: mission and goals; ethics and integrity; student learning opportunities; support of the student experience; educational effectiveness assessment; planning, resources and institutional improvement, and governance, leadership and administration.

The commission solicited comments on the proposed revisions in a series of town hall meetings earlier this year, including one in Pittsburgh in March. The draft revisions will be presented to the commission later this month, then sent to the members for a vote, Manfredi said.

New in 2014, Manfredi said, is that Middle States will have to verify that institutions are compliant with accreditation-relevant federal regulations in four areas: student identity verification in distance and correspondence education; transfer of credit policies; Title IV program responsibilities and assignment of credit hours.

“This means one more step has been added to the accreditation process,” Manfredi said. “The Department of Education wants to make sure we are good stewards of the money they give us, the money they give the students to come to our institution.”

Details are posted at


Commonwealth relations seeks to branch out

A Senate bylaws amendment proposal is in the works to permit the commonwealth relations committee to broaden its scope, committee co-chairs Debora Rougeux and Bob Daley reported.

Daley said attendance at committee meetings fell this academic year and late cancellations by invited state legislators have been problematic, prompting committee leaders to survey faculty for input on the purpose of the committee’s meetings as well as on the scope of the committee’s work.

Noting that state funding makes up a smaller part of the University’s budget than it once did, Daley said committee members have begun to consider meeting not only with state legislators, but also with representatives from the governor’s office, county and city leaders.

Rougeux said the committee’s survey received 45 responses out of 98 emails to faculty. “We were pleased with the support we got for the notion that we should expand our scope to include the other levels of government,” she said.

“Overwhelmingly the responses were in favor of the committee expanding its scope to include City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania executive branch, realizing that the legislative branch would still be our main focus.”

Many respondents also were amenable to providing information that would enable them to receive invitations to attend meetings involving their own district legislators, she said.

Daley said the committee plans to invite multiple legislators to future meetings, probably two per month, as opposed to one. The downside, he said, is that “the more people you invite, the more potential cancellations, the more negative feelings on the parts of faculty members who set aside time to attend. … And there’s also the issue of expense. The governmental relations office pays for the luncheon … and that is an expense that, if nobody shows up, is in some sense unwarranted.”

Rougeux said the committee also plans to add meetings to discuss issues, strategies and other concerns, as a supplement to the traditional luncheon meetings with legislators.


Computer usage committee reports progress

Computer usage committee co-chair Alexandros Labrinidis reported, among other recent technology improvements, that a dashboard for principal investigators is being developed to give researchers direct access to accounting data.

Researchers will be able to view detailed transaction information as well as a summary of their grants. A beta release is planned; interested researchers should contact the computer usage committee for details. (A committee roster is posted at

In addition:

  • Read Green largely has replaced mass paper mailings, Labrinidis said. Paperless delivery became the default for mass mailings last February. (See Jan. 23 University Times.)For February-April 2014, 60 mass mailings consisted of 11,287 hard copies and 601,867 electronic messages, he said. That compares with 56 mailings consisting of 164,925 hard copies and 131,081 Read Green messages in the same period in 2013.
  • Email address continuity for faculty (see Jan. 23, 2014, University Times) will be addressed in part by the cloud option in the new email system being introduced this summer, but data archiving would require a significant investment. “We need a bigger discussion with the administration to see if the time is right,” he said.
  • Labrinidis said the Office of the Registrar is looking into ways to simplify waiting lists for cross-listed courses and those with multiple recitations and labs, in response to faculty input. In addition, the Pittsburgh campus has been made the default for class searches in PeopleSoft.
  • Wireless service is being expanded on campus. Issues can be reported via a wireless feedback form on the portal.
  • Cloud storage via has been increased to 50GB, up from 25GB.

Labrinidis’s full report is posted at

—Kimberly K. Barlow