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May 14, 1998

Shared governance is topic for administrators, Senate leaders

Following faculty complaints that they increasingly are being left out of Pitt decision-making, University Senate leaders and Pitt senior administrators met May 6 to discuss shared governance.

Senate President Gordon MacLeod says he broke the ice by inquiring, "Before I get to the agenda, let me just ask a question: Who governs this University?" After the resulting laughter subsided, MacLeod recalls, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Provost James Maher replied that faculty, administrators, trustees, staff and students all have roles to play in shared governance.

"I thought Mark might answer that the Board of Trustees governs the University, but he didn't," MacLeod said. "I took that as a good sign." The meeting included Nordenberg, Maher, Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences Thomas Detre, MacLeod, Senate President-Elect Nathan Hershey and immediate past-President Keith McDuffie. But based on participants' subsequent comments to the University Times, the opening exchange was typical of the meeting as a whole: candid, collegial, but largely inconclusive.

"I thought we had a good exchange of views," Provost Maher said.

"Very cordial," Senior Vice Chancellor Detre added.

"A good start," MacLeod said.

The meeting focused on several issues raised by Senate leaders, including: * The absence of academicians on Pitt's board.

Unlike some other universities' boards, Pitt's Board of Trustees does not include employees or students, although faculty, staff and students serve as non-voting representatives on most board committees.

In the past, however, Pitt's full board has included academicians from other universities.

"The chancellor told us that the board's nominating committee is aware of this and is considering adding some academicians," MacLeod reported.

Failing to maintain academic representatives on a university board makes as little sense as excluding bankers and business people from a corporate board, MacLeod argued.

* The ambiguous role of faculty on board committees.

At recent Faculty Assembly meetings, some professors serving on board committees have said they aren't sure how much information they're allowed to share with faculty colleagues following closed-door meetings. Some trustees even discourage faculty from speaking up at meetings, the professors said.

According to MacLeod, senior administrators lauded two professors for speaking freely at board committee meetings and effectively representing faculty interests: English professor Phil Wion, who serves on the board's budget committee, and Tom Anderson, chairperson of the geology and planetary science department, who represents faculty on the board's property and facilities committee.

Maher said faculty are free to express opinions at trustees committee meetings. "During the meetings I've attended, this process has worked well," the provost told the University Times.

As for respecting confidentiality rules, Maher said: "It seems to me that the faculty representatives can communicate the essence of committee activities to their colleagues, and present faculty viewpoints to the trustees, without divulging details from confidential meetings. It shouldn't be built up to be a bigger problem than it is." Pitt trustees took away faculty, staff and students' voting privileges on board committees in 1996, in response to a recommendation by outside consultants. Detre pointed out that the consultants recommended removing employees and students from trustees committees entirely, but Chancellor Norden-berg talked the board into allowing them to remain as non-voting representatives.

* Faculty participation in decisions in which they have a vested interest.

Although faculty had a financial stake in next year's medical insurance rates, they weren't consulted in setting those rates, Senate leaders complained.

Senior administrators acknowledged that faculty and staff did not participate in the late stages of negotiating rates, but noted that employees helped to draft requests for proposals and review vendors' bids, and agreed to award the contract to Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Tri-State HMO.

Provost Maher said, "You could make the argument either way: The cup's either half full or half empty. Some parts of the process were done more in collaboration with the faculty than in previous years, and other parts involved less faculty participation than in the past." MacLeod said the health insurance negotiations exemplified campus issues in which faculty expertise and financial interests aren't adequately considered.

"The senior administration says it saved us $2 million" by persuading insurers to reduce rate hikes from an initial estimate of $8 million to $6 million, MacLeod said.

"Maybe if faculty who are expert in this area had been consulted, the University could have saved $4 million. We'll never know."

— Bruce Steele

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