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March 19, 2015

Senate proposes structural changes

Plans to revamp the University Senate committee structure are taking shape. The Senate executive committee, amid positive response to some facets of the proposed changes (see Feb. 19 University Times), on March 17 presented to Faculty Assembly a pair of draft resolutions to:

• Create a University Senate standing committee on research, and

• Merge the Senate’s admissions and student aid committee with the student affairs committee.

Executive committee member Thomas Smitherman, immediate past president of the Senate, said, “Our goal was to get the motions on the table but postpone to next month full discussion and debate and a vote,” to give members time to think about and comment on the proposals.

“If we want to have a research committee in place for the next fiscal year, we need to get it done this academic year,” said Smitherman, who has coordinated the Senate efforts to update its committee structure.

The proposals are expected to be on the Assembly’s April 14 agenda. If approved, they would move to Senate Council for final action.

The Senate research committee would “focus its activities on research policies and procedures, research operations, research regulation and compliance and the management of intellectual property for funded and unfunded research within the University,” the draft resolution states.

The proposed Senate research committee’s scope would overlap with but also complement some duties of the University Research Council. (The council reports in an advisory capacity to the provost and includes two representatives of the Senate.

The merger of the existing admissions and student aid committee and the student affairs committee would combine student-related topics under a single committee and give that committee “a role, scope and size of agenda that is more typical of most Senate committees,” according to the draft resolution.

Admissions and student aid committee chair Robin Kear told the Assembly that her committee plans to meet in closed session next week with student affairs committee chair Ray Jones to discuss any concerns. She reported that she has heard only favorable comments about the proposal.

The Senate executive committee initially had floated a suggestion to merge the Senate library committee with the University Press committee, but jettisoned the proposal amid “almost uniformly negative feedback,” said Smitherman.

“We decided to simply forgo forwarding that issue,” he told the Assembly.

A comment form and links to the full draft resolutions and updated background information on the proposed standing committee reorganization are posted under the “possible reorganization of the Senate committees” tab at

Sound off on single sign-ons

The Senate is soliciting faculty comments on the availability of single-sign-on (SSO) access via the portal to retirement account and UPMC health information.

While SSO is convenient — users can access this additional information without entering another username and password — sharing a password or leaving a computer unattended has the potential to leave sensitive data exposed.

Senate President Michael Spring said that while he is confident that the University’s system is secure, he urged users to be vigilant. “All the members of our community might not be fully aware of the fact that sharing their password or leaving a machine unattended without logging off” means that others could access sensitive financial or health information.

“I have no concern about the security of the Pitt website,” Spring reiterated. Whether you love SSO or have concerns, “I want to make sure this is what everybody wants and this is the best way to provide that,” he said.

Results of a survey posted under the “” tab at will inform conversations with the administration. “We will continue to work on it to the best interests of all faculty,” Spring said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow