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January 22, 2015

Faculty input sought on NTS recommendations

The University Senate is seeking faculty input on interim policy recommendations by its ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream (NTS) faculty and on the Senate educational policies committee’s recommendations for providing students with expanded course descriptions prior to registration.

Comment forms and copies of the committees’ reports from Faculty Assembly’s Jan. 13 meeting have been posted at

Non-tenure-stream faculty report

Irene Frieze, Senate vice president and chair of the ad hoc committee on NTS faculty issues, in the committee’s Jan. 13 interim report (posted under the documents tab at, said the Senate is working closely with the University administration on NTS faculty issues. “They’ve done a lot to already implement a lot of the things we’re talking about,” she acknowledged.

Frieze prefaced the five interim recommendations by noting that faculty hired outside the tenure stream are a growing group at Pitt, comprising nearly 61 percent of Pitt’s full-time faculty and making up the majority of full-time faculty in eight of Pitt’s 16 schools.

Many have built lengthy careers at the University, she said, adding that NTS faculty at Pitt fill a variety of roles. Some primarily teach; others do research or have clinical duties. Many have administrative responsibilities. “These are not people who come in and don’t participate. Many of them are involved in major service activities — internationally and nationally, as well as at the University.”

A show of hands indicated that well over half the faculty in attendance identified as NTS faculty.

Frieze said the committee found many of the rules governing NTS faculty issues — such as job titles, contract lengths, duties, salary policies, annual review processes, promotion criteria and criteria for emeritus designations — are determined primarily at the school level.

“It’s something we may want to think about — whether this makes sense or not, but it is the reality now,” she said.

In addition to recommending a review to determine whether school- and unit-level decisions regarding NTS faculty should be made at a higher level to increase consistency, the committee recommended:

  • Clearly explained and accessible policies within each unit.
  • Clearly defined tracks for promotion and career development.
  • Annual reviews.
  • Clear incentives for promotion.

Committee member Carey Balaban, vice provost for faculty affairs, said: “All of these initiatives have been ongoing for a number of years in all schools. … They’re being fine tuned. We’re working on them, as we do all the time.”

Balaban said the administration has been proactive over the years “in making certain that we give our non-tenure-stream faculty the respect as colleagues that they deserve.

“They’re valued colleagues, they’re valued members of our institution,” he said, adding, “I hope all of you who raised your hands feel that.”

Balaban added: “We can be proud, I think, in the many ways that we have been working together between the administration, faculty and the units in order to create this atmosphere.”

Senate President Michael Spring said, “This University, this provost, this chancellor, have been acting on non-tenure-stream faculty,” adding, “I think if we had never formed this ad hoc committee, things would have happened.

“But I think more things will happen in a better way,” he said, urging faculty to contribute their comments via the Senate website.

Educational policies report

Faculty Assembly took no action on the Senate educational policies committee (EPC)’s proposal to institute a process for making expanded course descriptions available to students at registration.

Instead, Spring asked faculty to provide input via the Senate website to aid EPC in clarifying their recommendations.

EPC chair Zsuzsa Horvath said the recommendations came in response to student requests for access to Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching (OMET) student evaluations to inform their course selections.

The committee declined to recommend University-wide release of OMET evaluation results, but agreed that course descriptions should be enhanced, which prompted the creation of a sample template (posted at as one option for adding detail.

Several Assembly members had logistical concerns about keeping course information current and accurate, and expressed fears that a standardized course description form could lead students to select courses with the fewest requirements and easiest exam formats.

Michael Goodhart noted that it would be difficult to provide current information for courses taught by adjuncts, who may not have syllabi for their sections available until after students register for courses.

In addition, “I feel like we may be giving students a tool to avoid taking the kind of interesting, rigorous demanding courses that I think as teachers we ought to want them to take.”

He instead suggested that departments keep old syllabi on file or students ask instructors directly for more information on courses. Others noted that students can find unofficial input online on sites such as

Spring, who said he posts detailed syllabi for his courses online, questioned who would be charged with enforcing a University-wide requirement for posting up-to-date syllabi and what penalties might be imposed for those who don’t.

Spring urged faculty to register their thoughts online to aid EPC in clarifying its recommendations.


Horvath invited representatives from other committees to join an EPC working group that is forming to investigate the need (and topics) for digital training modules on digital ethics, electronic communication and social media for Pitt faculty, staff and students. Faculty should contact EPC co-chair Bonnie Falcione.

Likewise, interested faculty are invited to contact EPC leaders to join a cross-committee working group on topics related to Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching (OMET) student evaluations of teaching. The group, which will begin meeting this month, plans to address student efforts to make OMET evaluation results public; the use of OMET evaluations in faculty promotion decisions and issues surrounding implementation of online OMET evaluations.

Athletics committee update

Athletics committee co-chair Jay Irrgang presented an update of the committee’s activities over the past year.

He did not comment on the search for a new athletic director, referring faculty to a transcript of Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and interim AD Randy Juhl’s comments that are posted on Post-Gazette writer Sam Werner’s blog.

Recent reports that University of North Carolina athletes bolstered their grade point averages through grades received in phantom courses prompted a faculty member to inquire about academic integrity issues.

Irrgang said safeguards are in place at Pitt. “Class attendance is monitored,” in part by Academic Support Services for Student Athletes, which is under the Provost’s office rather than Athletics.

“I know some coaches that will actually go to classes, walk around the Cathedral of Learning, to monitor their athletes attending class,” Irrgang added. “I think it would be very difficult for a student-athlete to not show up to a class and not have somebody in the Athletics department and their team know about it.”

In addition, Irrgang said, the director of student support services for athletes and the faculty athletics representative review all independent study courses for student-athletes, including holding a discussion with the faculty member overseeing the independent study.

Irrgang reported on legislative proposals and legal action surrounding stipends and other compensation for student-athletes. He noted recent NCAA governance changes, including restructuring of the board and the inception of an “autonomy” model that enables the big five conferences —  the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pacific-12 and Southeastern Conference — to enact NCAA legislation specific to their five conferences.

Irrgang said the committee this month will view a women’s basketball practice and tour refurbished facilities at the Petersen Events Center; in February members will receive updates on legislative changes in the NCAA and on the Pitt athletics director search.

The March meeting of the committee will feature a presentation on the University’s athletics marketing and a review of intramural and recreational programs and in April the committee will visit a football practice.

Child protection clearances

Questions remain as to how recent changes to the state’s child protection laws will affect University employees.

Employees at Pitt who have direct contact with individuals under age 18 now will be required to obtain state and federal criminal history reports and Department of Human Services (DHS) child abuse history clearances. The requirement took effect Dec. 31, 2014, for new employees.

Together, the three clearances cost $47.50. “Many questions remain open,” including whether these costs will be reimbursed, Spring said.

“The law is comprehensive but the details of how we come into compliance were not fully worked out in terms of detailed procedures,” he said, noting that administrators from Pitt and other affected institutions of higher education are in discussions with DHS to clarify how adjunct and part-time faculty, students and volunteers will be affected by these requirements.

He questioned whether adjuncts who have one-term contracts and are not continuing part-time employees would be considered new employees, subject to obtaining new clearances each term they teach.

Also unresolved: “If my background check doesn’t come back clean, somebody’s going to have to make a decision about what to do about me. That, I think, is going to be difficult,” he said.

Vice Provost Balaban  commented, “Everyone’s aware of the complexities,” adding that the ramifications of the legislative initiative are being worked on this year.

According to DHS, persons employed prior to Dec. 31, 2014, have until the end of 2015 to obtain the clearances if they were not required to have them under prior law. Clearances must be renewed every 36 months. Employees who already were required to have clearances will need to update them within 36 months of the most recent clearance, or by the end of 2015, if their clearance is older than 36 months.

Registering faculty travel

Spring invited comments from faculty on plans to require that faculty members register official University travel abroad.

Prompted by the Ebola crisis in West Africa, “the chancellor and provost have indicated that recent events highlight the importance of being able to get a handle on official University travel abroad by faculty. Staff and administrators currently are required, on official University travel, to report their intent. Faculty are not,” Spring said.

Noting that the provost is looking into the issue, “I have suggested that we bring together a clear package of the benefits provided to Pitt faculty for University, professional and personal travel abroad,” Spring said. Among those benefits are emergency medical services and help with both preparing electronic devices prior to international travel and ensuring they are free of malware upon return.

“While the requirement that faculty register foreign travel plans will be restricted to University-sponsored travel, I personally believe there are potentially significant benefits to alerting the appropriate offices at Pitt to all your travel plans — University, professional and personal,” Spring said. “As always, I suspect that some of you will have different opinions and I think now is a good time to invite any concerns or reservations you have about registering official University travel.”

Other business

• In response to a faculty member’s concerns about finding links to publishers’ advertisements on Courseweb, Spring said that Cynthia Golden, head of the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education, explained that the messages appeared after some routine upgrades and that CIDDE had requested that Blackboard, the system provider, remove such messages in the future.

• No changes are planned for the existing phase-out retirement policy that permits tenured faculty, with the provost’s approval, to reduce their appointment from full- to half-time as a transition to retirement.

However, Spring said, the Office of the Provost is re-examining the wording of the agreements faculty must sign to effect the change of status. “Some faculty have observed that they think the legal jargon is overblown,” he said, reiterating that no changes to the policy described in an April 12, 2001, memorandum from then-Provost James V. Maher ( are planned.

• Spring reminded faculty that nominations, including self-nominations, for Senate officer and standing committee elections should be made by Feb. 28.

• The Senate plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee plans to meet with the University registrar at its March 19 meeting. Faculty with questions on matters related to the registrar’s domain should be directed to PUP co-chairs Pat Weiss and Tracey Olanyk or to Lori Molinaro in the Senate office prior to the meeting.

—Kimberly K. Barlow