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December 4, 1997

First two FAS dean candidates complete campus interviews

The first two public forums featuring semi-finalists for Pitt's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) deanship included:

* An external candidate from the humanities — David Magidson, former dean of fine, performing and communication arts and a professor of theater arts at Wayne State University.

* An insider with a science background — Pitt chemistry professor and former department chairperson John Cooper.

Cooper's responses to audience questions tended to be more detailed and substantial, drawing on his 11 years of experience in FAS. Magidson spoke in more general terms; he repeatedly begged off on questions about FAS-specific issues such as the school's long-range planning process, saying he lacked sufficient knowledge about conditions within Pitt and FAS.

But both candidates agreed that the new dean must lead by building a consensus among FAS faculty, not by dictating policy.

Each voiced qualified support for a plan to cut the school's number of tenured and tenure stream faculty from 542 to 505, while hiring 25 non-tenure stream "post-doctoral fellows" who will teach for terms of three years or less.

And both men said it's impossible for any dean to have in-depth knowledge of the dozens of academic disciplines represented within FAS — although an able dean, they said, can work collegially with professors to set goals and priorities.

Each forum began with an opening statement by the candidate, followed by about 45 minutes of questions and answers.

Magidson's forum was on Nov. 21, Cooper's on Nov. 25.

The forums for the three remaining semi-finalists are scheduled for Dec. 5 (Janice Madden, vice provost for graduate education and an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania), Dec. 9 (Charles Cnudde, dean of social sciences and a political science professor at Florida State University) and Dec. 12 (Thomas Scott, former associate dean of arts and sciences and a neuroscience professor at the University of Delaware).

Each forum is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. in the William Pitt Union's Kurtzman Room.

A sixth semi-finalist, Wendy Wilkins of Arizona State University, dropped out as an FAS dean candidate last month to become dean of arts and letters at Michigan State University.

"Beware of deans bearing visions," Magidson warned.

He defined such deans as those who think of themselves more as managers than as faculty colleagues, and who seek to impose an institutional vision.

"My vision, then, is a vision of a place that works together to put a vision together, where people don't come in and tell other people what to do," he said.

"Listen, this college [FAS], which has 9,000 or 10,000 undergraduate students and a budget of $120 million and who knows what else, is bigger than probably 70 percent of the universities in America," Magidson said. "It's a very big enterprise. So there is a lot of complexity, a lot of give and take." Magidson said he gained the sense, from talking with Provost James Maher and FAS professors, that the school's faculty are "planned out" — exhausted from drafting and re-drafting long-range plans, year after year, often without apparent result.

But in response to an audience member's question, Magidson said he couldn't predict whether he, as dean, would call for still more planning to plot the futures of FAS departments. "It may be all there, the decisions may already be there" in the latest FAS plan (the Phase IV planning document), said Magidson, who indicated he hadn't read the document.

"I don't know how to answer that without looking at this apparently quite large amount of [long-range planning] stuff, and what people's perceptions are of it." Asked to comment on laboratory start-up costs for new faculty in the sciences, Magidson noted that "it's not uncommon" for universities to spend $250,000 or $500,000 on such start-ups, which he called highly cost-effective investments for universities in the long run. "I feel we have to have them, if we're going to stay first-rate. The question is, how many times can you do that in a year and not go broke? These are tough decisions." But Magidson said he could not suggest solutions without more knowledge of the FAS research budget.

Another audience member asked Magidson what proportion of indirect costs from federal research grants he believed should be controlled by the FAS dean, and how he would spend that money.

"That is a very good question. In fact, my preference is for all of it," Magidson quipped, but then added: "My understanding is that very little of it goes to the dean's office. Most of it goes to the faculty member [who is principal investigator, or P.I., for the grant] and his or her department. But because I don't know the formula, it's hard for me to talk about it." Under Pitt's Research Allocations Policy, the equivalent of 10 percent of research overhead costs are supposed to be returned to the P.I., 9 percent to the Provost's Research Development Fund, 5 percent to the P.I.'s department, 1 percent to the Office of Research, and 25 percent to the FAS dean's office. But, due to University budgetary constraints, the FAS dean (like other Pitt deans) has received only 4 percent allocations since the policy was adopted in 1993, FAS Associate Dean for Administration Richard Howe said after the forum.

Magidson said he was not opposed to adding full- and part-time, non-tenure stream teaching positions, while scaling back on tenure track positions, as long as such moves are made carefully and with an agreed-upon strategy in mind.

Wayne State University has benefited from employing Detroit area professionals as part-time faculty, including musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and successful minority lawyers and physicians, he said.

Magidson said his former employer, the University of New Hampshire, maintained what he called "a very, very successful" system of hiring young Ph.D.s for three-year, non-tenure track teaching posts — a system similar to one outlined in the latest FAS long-range plan.

"Obviously, if you get too many [part-timers and/or non-tenure stream faculty], you don't have enough full-time, tenured faculty to act as advisers and serve on committees, and productivity stops," Magidson said. "You have to be sensible about it." "FAS can't keep staggering from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis," Cooper said.

This year, he noted, FAS departments completed the fourth phase of a multi-year planning process — only to be assessed a 1 percent "tax" on their compensation budgets by the Provost's office after the plan was finished. The cut was not among the departments' planning assumptions, Cooper said.

"Before you plan, you have to know the background against which you're planning," he said. "You need stability in that background. That's what we haven't had. The rules have been continually changing, and now it's quite clear that the parameters have changed completely again." Cooper said he would not ask FAS faculty to go through the effort of planning their departments' futures unless he, as dean, had reached an understanding with the provost that budget parameters would remain stable throughout the process. Without such an agreement, Cooper said, he would not be interested in the dean's job.

The FAS planning process has been frustrating at times and has led to a deterioration of faculty morale as departments have competed among one another for limited funds, Cooper said. But the process has yielded some good results, he added. "I don't, in fact, feel that those [planning] exercises were wasted. Some departments were forced to think carefully about changes they needed to make, and they have begun to make those changes. And a few interdisciplinary initiatives have begun." But FAS has gone beyond trimming fat from its budget, Cooper said. "We're to the point of cutting muscle and bone." An audience member pointed out that Cooper, if appointed dean, would be the third consecutive scientist named to the job. "I make no claim of understanding the fine points of the humanities and social sciences, any more than I understand everything that's going on in biology," the chemistry professor replied.

As dean, he pledged, he would put a high priority on visiting each unit and meeting with its faculty. "I have no idea, for example, what a studio arts program looks like. We have a studio arts department. I've heard some very good things about it. I hear its facilities are awful. I won't know unless I've been there," Cooper said.

After an audience member suggested he might have a limited vision for FAS as an "inside" candidate, Cooper pointed out that he also has been employed at Harvard and Oxford and would bring what he called "an external as well as an internal perspective" to the dean's job.

The replacement of full-time, tenured professors with part-timers and non-tenure stream faculty represents "a very serious and complicated situation," Cooper said. Pitt's new early retirement plan for tenured faculty will make for "the most fluid situation I think I have ever seen at an institution" in terms of faculty turnover, he said.

But given FAS's budget constraints, Cooper said, the plan to hire post-doctoral teaching fellows is "responsible" and will not necessarily lead to the exploitation of young faculty hired for the positions, as some critics of the plan have charged. Rather, the plan will offer newly minted Ph.D.s the opportunity to build up their teaching portfolios during a set period of employment, Cooper said.

In his opening remarks, Cooper said FAS is blessed with four great strengths, each of which poses challenges: * The "extraordinary quality" of FAS faculty, as documented by the nationally and even internationally high rankings of FAS departments such as philosophy, as well as individual achievements — professors named to the National Academy of Sciences, for example.

But budget constraints, combined with Pitt's new early retirement plan for tenured faculty, will make it especially challenging in the next few years to maintain and enhance the quality of FAS faculty, Cooper said.

* Last year's decision to preserve FAS as a unified school, rather than dividing the arts and sciences among separate divisions.

"This decision recognizes the links among all of the departments in a liberal arts institution," Cooper said. But it also set the stage for the first major reform of Pitt's undergraduate arts and sciences curriculum since the early 1980s, he pointed out.

* The "extraordinary rootedness" of Pitt in western Pennsylvania, whose residents care deeply about the University even when they disagree with its policies.

The challenge is to continue to serve area students while raising academic standards and recruiting more out-of-state students, Cooper said.

* Pitt's state-related status, which ensures a base level of state financial support without the micromanagement-by-government to be found among state-owned schools.

The downside, Cooper said, is that the University's state appropriations aren't keeping pace with inflation, while political realities (and market forces) limit Pitt's capacity to generate more tuition revenue.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 8

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