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August 28, 2014

Senate Matters: Reluctance and anticipation

Michael Spring

Michael Spring

Several faculty members have served as president of the University Senate for the maximum three years. I never knew just how much that demanded of their time and energy. Thus, when I realized we had not reached our goals for the year, it was with reluctance that I decided to run for a second year. Some colleagues also pointed out that having continuity in the Senate would be useful as we welcomed a new chancellor.

Perhaps the best part of last year was seeing Chancellor Nordenberg recognized for the hard work and leadership he provided over the past two decades. I believe the best part of the coming year will be getting to know and work with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. A couple of times already I have passed him as he sauntered down Fifth Avenue shortly after 7 a.m., providing one indication of his work ethic. Brief interactions clearly indicate he is a leader with a quick mind who believes in institutional mission and collaborative efforts. I am looking forward to getting to know him better.

I want to share with you a personal view of what’s on the Senate agenda, and let you know that I welcome your input.

We will continue to work on three things that we began this past year:

• First, under the able leadership of Vice President Irene Frieze, we began a comprehensive review of policies related to faculty who are outside the tenure stream. Like so many other tasks that fall to Faculty Assembly and Senate Council, it has become clear that the issue is far more complex than one would imagine. The committee has been working hard, very hard, and they serve as a model for collegial shared governance. There may be more stories over the coming years of poor treatment of faculty who occupy positions outside the tenure stream, particularly those who are part time. I believe that the leadership of Provost Patricia Beeson and the deans, along with the advice and insight of this committee, will ensure that Pitt is a model of how to do it right rather than an example of the mistakes others may make.

• Second, we undertook a review of communications and how committees operate in open and closed meetings. We worked with the chairs of the standing committees and the University Times to make sure all of you were as informed as possible. I want to single out Kim Barlow of the University Times who has consistently reported the news of our various meetings in a way that kept all of us informed. (And, she never let my irreverent quips get me in trouble!) While we remain cognizant of the need to have some conversations closed so as to ensure privacy and avoid misunderstanding, we have had some lively debates in the Faculty Assembly and I expect more will follow. We have begun to get feedback from some of you via the questions that we post on the Senate website ( and hope that feedback will increase. Indeed, there is a new poll on the website right now asking for your opinion on the most important issues the Senate might examine.

• Third, we began a dialogue about the University in the digital age. This was the subject of the spring plenary session with commentary from seven of our colleagues on how their research, teaching and entrepreneurial efforts were changing in light of new technological capabilities. This year we will begin with a fall plenary session on research data management, which is a topic that is receiving increased attention along a variety of fronts, so mark your calendar for the plenary session on Oct. 23.

There also are several issues on the horizon that will impact the University over the coming years and are deserving of our attention. Several of you have written or called about the new policies and procedures on visitors to our labs and departments. Related to these policies are federal regulations that pertain to export controls. The senior administration is working hard on these issues. The new policies and procedures will, in some cases, require additional actions by faculty and we need to make sure that everyone is on the same page about what is required, desired and appropriate.

We also will keep our ears open about new NCAA regulations and policies related to Division 1 governance. Pitt has an extraordinary reputation related to athletics and academics, but there are changes and pressures that are new and they will impact the University.

Last, but surely not least, we will continue to face new challenges and opportunities in moving the University forward in reputation, funding and outreach. One part of the challenge will be balancing research costs with research revenues. We already have seen indications of this pressure in units that are heavily supported by extramural funds. I believe it will be important to be prepared for the possibility that selected units and budgets may contract and that may mean salary reductions.

If there is an issue that you believe needs to be on our agenda, I would like to hear from you.

Michael Spring, a faculty member in the School of Information Sciences, is president of the University Senate. His email address is