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October 9, 1997


Does FAS have secret faculty committee?

To the editor:

One hears tell that Dean [David] Brumble has appointed a secret faculty committee to advise him on how to deal with tenured FAS faculty members who have been cited for inappropriate conduct and who have been unwilling or unable to mend their ways.

Three questions are in order:

1. Does this secret committee indeed exist?

2. If it does, did the dean seek and obtain a mandate from the faculty to establish it?

3. If the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second question is no, can the dean offer any reason why the committee should not be dissolved at once? In order to forestall possible misunderstanding, the issue here is not whether all faculty are angels, but rather one of due process and collegiality.

Joseph White

Associate Professor Department of History


David Brumble,

Faculty of Arts and Sciences associate dean for undergraduate studies, replies:

When teaching problems arise, some chairs do, in fact, seek advice. In extreme cases, they sometimes seek even the advice of deans! I wanted to give the best advice I could on these occasions, and so it occurred to me to form a standing committee of widely experienced, well respected professors to advise me how I might best advise chairs. Most of the chairs thought that this would be helpful; none objected. When a chair seeks my advice on a serious teaching-related problem, I can now call some of these people together to discuss the matter. And so we give advice — on the basis of a combined total of over 200 years of experience here at Pitt.

I think that it was not Professor White's intent to do me a favor, but I do appreciate this opportunity to thank, in this public way, the members of my advisory committee: Gene Engels, Fil Hearn, Maurine Greenwald, Jim Knapp, Steve Manuck, Morry Ogul, Christina Paulston, Alberta Sbragia, Phil Smith and Tony Walters — wise advisers all.

I should mention, by the way, that I have been gratified to find how few really serious teaching problems arise in our large faculty.


Handling of faculty early retirement proposal is puzzling

To the editor:

I find the administration's handling of the proposed new retirement and buy-out package puzzling, to say the least. Unless appearances are deceiving, it has treated the matter as though it were of no consequence. Pitt, along with other research universities, faces an unprecedented situation. It can expect a sizable proportion of its tenured faculty members, in the absence of positive incentives to retire, to remain in place, carrying on with their research and teaching for many years beyond what used to be the mandatory retirement age of 70. From the standpoint of the University's interests, however, it may pay to induce faculty to retire in their 60s and replace some but not all of them with men and women who are much younger and cost less. The whole idea smacks of a "win/win" situation, one in which the University "wins" by saving money and renewing its faculty and the retiring faculty "win" with a program that induces them to retire. It is this premise that has guided the deliberations and final report of the chancellor's committee that reported to him in June. In two respects, the behavior of the Chancellor's office is puzzling. First, during the deliberations of the committee, it demonstrated no interest in getting answers that would test the validity of the "win/win" premise–and there are questions. Most of them have to do with predicting the behavior of the faculty eligible for the proposed new package, particularly its buy-out. How many eligible faculty will retire anyway, without a special inducement? How many more will retire if offered a given inducement? These are difficult empirical questions but market researchers, to say nothing of empirical scientists in universities, deal with such questions every day. Two of their main methods are widely known: survey research and focus groups. The evidence available to me indicates that the Chancellor's office has chosen not to employ any such methods or encourage anyone else to do so. If this is true, it is surprising in a University with a distinguished social science faculty and particularly surprising since one of the chancellor's principal assistants is a survey researcher of the highest reputation. Either he does not take empirical social science seriously or he does not take this proposal seriously. His several public references to what he has called the generosity of the committee's recommendations suggests the latter. It fixes attention, rather than on the "win/win" premise, on a wholly irrelevant question, whether tenured faculty deserve to be induced to retire. Generosity (the chancellor's term), or the lack of it, has nothing to do with it. Chancellor Nordenberg has also said that any new retirement plan must serve the interests of the University and this is entirely correct. His statement refers to the first "win" in a "win/win" solution (the other being the interests of the faculty involved). The trouble is that for a "win/win" plan to be adopted, the administration will have to explain clearly and persuasively to the board, the legislature and the public what the first "win" means, that the purpose of the plan is to save money and keep a favorable age distribution in the faculty. Performing this task successfully will not be easy. It will take considerable skill and careful advanced preparation, which only the chancellor can make. Without it, the hazard is that the interests of the University as an institution will be defined narrowly and pursued in such a way as to produce a lose/lose outcome. So far, the administration has not dealt with this task, not at least visibly, and its reference to the generosity of the proposal has, if anything, made performing it successfully more difficult. The fact that the administration has evidently failed to do its homework, to estimate what Pitt could "win" from a new retirement and buy-out package, puts it at a distinct disadvantage in this matter. In the absence of such estimates, the attention too easily shifts to whether the faculty "wins," a question that is meaningless and can have dangerous consequences without addressing simultaneously whether the University also wins. Not the least of the problems which the task of preparing the way poses for the administration is the fact that both the chancellor and the provost were Pitt faculty members and that they serve the University at a time when its accountability to the business community and the public through the board is particularly demanding. Their credibility with the faculty is (or should be) a valuable asset to the other constituencies of the University, the board, the legislature, and the public. Given this situation, the chancellor needs to show that he is not captive to faculty interests. This is a worthy as well as an expedient concern for him or any university president in a comparable situation. But it is at least equally important that he not expend his credibility with the faculty, which he quite clearly could do by not demonstrating his concern for faculty interests where there is a possibility of pursuing them in a positive-sum game.

The administration owes it to the board, the legislature and to the public to treat as a serious policy question the proposed new retirement and buy-out package, including its claim that it offers a "win" solution to the institutional interests of the University. It owes to the faculty a demonstration that it understands the faculty's choices and that it is addressing them constructively. For the sake of its own future effectiveness with the faculty the administration needs to be seen, convincingly, to be doing both of these things. It also needs to be seen to be aware that if it offers a half-way measure, which induces only a few of the eligible faculty to retire, that outcome will be a missed opportunity to "win" bigger for the University as an institution and for the taxpayer.

Paul Y. Hammond

Distinguished Service Professor Public and International Affairs


Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg replies:

Professor Hammond's concerns regarding the proposed faculty retirement incentive program are widely known. They have been advanced in a number of settings over a period now spanning many weeks and received fairly extensive coverage in earlier issues of the University Times. In far fewer words, then, let me simply repeat the responses that already have been made.

The administration continues to consider the final resolution of the issues presented by proposals for a retirement incentive program for tenured faculty to be an extremely important issue. Throughout the processes of proposal development and review, we have taken all of our responsibilities–including data gathering and analysis–seriously.

We are particularly empathetic to the individual faculty members whose personal decisionmaking has been affected by this ongoing process. As previously announced, the matter is scheduled for consideration at the Oct. 23 meeting of the Board of Trustees, following review by its budget committee. This is the earliest date that it could have been brought to the Board. If things proceed as anticipated, then, a final resolution of the matter should be forthcoming two weeks from today.

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