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March 5, 2015

NTS, better course info recommendations okayed

The University Senate has approved a set of recommendations on full-time non-tenure-stream faculty and on improving course information available to students prior to registration.

Senate Council on Feb. 18 approved a report by the ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream (NTS) faculty concerns and a resolution by the educational policies committee (EPC), both of which were approved Feb. 10 by Faculty Assembly. (See Feb. 19 University Times.)

NTS faculty recommendations

Senate Vice President Irene Frieze, chair of the ad hoc committee, commented on the report that has been a year and a half in the making. “The administration has been working for quite a while on these issues. We see ourselves as working very closely with them, supplementing maybe some of the things they have done,” she said.

The committee found that about 60 percent of full-time Pitt faculty are non-tenure stream. “This is a very large group of our faculty and it’s a group that many of our institutional policies have not really fully recognized. And that’s some of the things we’re trying to bring forward in our resolutions,” said Frieze.

“We do see Pitt as a model. Certainly we’re doing things much better at Pitt than many of the other institutions here in Pittsburgh,” Frieze said.

“We’re doing well at this but we think that there are things that probably need to be brought to the attention of the University community more, and maybe tweaking some of the things that we’re doing.”

The ad hoc committee’s recommendations call for each unit to have clear, accessible policies for NTS faculty; that there be clearly defined mechanisms, or career tracks, by which NTS faculty can advance; that annual reviews include clear and specific duties for the upcoming year, and that incentive structures be in place.

The committee also recommended a review of whether some policies on NTS faculty, which now vary widely among units, ought to be decided at a University-wide level.

The full report is posted under the documents tab on the NTS ad hoc committee page at

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher commended the committee’s work, commenting: “I was very pleased to see that the committee endorses what I believe has been a very strong track record of actions, proactive efforts by the schools, by the campuses, to better define and recognize the important work of this critical part of our faculty.

“I think we really are a model for other institutions and we should be proud of that. And I think this report is a positive step in finding additional ways in which we can strengthen what is a good story.”

Improving course information

EPC chair Zsuzsa Horvath commented on the committee’s resolution that recommends providing updated, meaningful course information to students: “It was important to recognize the problem that this information is not always up to date and sufficient for students to make a decision about registration,” she said. “We are asking Provost (Patricia E.) Beeson to work with individual units to address this problem.”

She added: “We also would like to acknowledge the challenges that may arise in the implementation. … Our committee would like to offer any support to the provost that would be helpful for the implementation.”

Senate President Michael Spring commented: “We should do everything we can to provide all appropriate and adequate information to students as they make a decision about taking a course. In an era of such advanced information technology, with so much information that we have, it’s a shame that it’s not all more visible and accessible.”

Spring said faculty should be able to provide more information on their courses than what is included in the abbreviated registrar course descriptions. “We do, in a lot of different places and a lot of different ways, but we’ve got to find a way to make that accessible.”

Student Government Board President Graeme Meyer thanked the Senate committee, adding that the SGB academic affairs committee will continue in its push for broader access to OMET (Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching) student opinion of teaching survey data.

“They’re not looking to have access to every single piece of data collected within the OMETs, they really just do want more information on the course itself, on how that course is taught, because every professor has a different way of teaching a course that sometimes works better for different students,” he said.

Meyer said it’s unfortunate that for many courses the information available is limited to a simple paragraph, adding that SGB’s academic affairs committee will continue to work with individual schools to develop a process for releasing OMET information.

Spring commented that OMETs’ current structure provides formative feedback for faculty, “but the fact of the matter is that we should work harder to give our consumers the information they need to make choices. … The question is what’s the best way to do that.”

Strategic planning update

Gallagher said University-wide strategic planning efforts are moving from the information-gathering stage toward implementation.

Several key themes have emerged from input by groups including Pitt’s trustees, senior leadership, the Council of Deans, planning and budgeting committees, the University Senate, Staff Association Council, students and others, the chancellor said.

Among them: The value proposition for higher education and maximizing that value; the impact of technology on universities, and the University’s culture, “whether that’s diversity and creativity or whether that’s the agility and risk-averse/risk-acceptance of the University,” Gallagher said.

Thanking David DeJong, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management, for spearheading the process, the chancellor said that from now until the summer, the administration will be focusing on developing “signature initiatives to highlight some of these issues and generate some momentum.”

He said, “As we move into the next phase I would ask your continued participation and thoughtfulness that have been so important to us so far.”

Several community input sessions on the new strategic planning framework have been set, including a Senate plenary session scheduled for 1-3 p.m. March 19 in the Alumni Hall Connolly Ballroom.

Spring said: “The plenary will be a dialogue with the chancellor and other members of the senior staff and the faculty and staff of the University on the state of the University and its future.

“We hope to have a freewheeling dialogue,” he said, inviting members of the University community to attend and participate.

—Kimberly K. Barlow