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September 28, 1995


The power of the University Senate–to some that phrase may seem an oxymoron. The Senate's institutional power is advisory only, yet over the years it has demonstrated its fundamental role as the primary forum for dialogue and accommodation (or lack of it) between the faculty, staff, students and administrative officers. Not all of its many accomplishments make news; when they do, strong conflict between competing interests is usually involved. Witness the recent controversy over the choice of health care plans available to faculty and staff. The Senate's work began this month with the first meetings of the Faculty Assembly and the Senate Council. The three months since the election of new Senate members, including a new executive committee, have been marked by essential opportunities for dialogue with members of the administration. Concern was expressed at the first Faculty Assembly meeting about the viability of the Senate for dealing with university governance in an effective way as we enter more uncertain and turbulent times. A resolution proposing that alternative forms of governance be studied was nonetheless voted down. The majority of the members seemed to be voting to devote efforts to making the Senate work rather than trying to invent a replacement for it at this point. The Faculty Assembly was established somewhat over two decades ago to provide a more effective and manageable instrument for expressing and voting on specific faculty positions on issues. Dr. Thomas Detre not long ago in Senate Council declared that it engages in "unilateral sensitivity–the administration is always told when they slip up and in what process." Not an entirely useless function, but no doubt he left out a number of its other accomplishments. The Senate Council, of course, is the primary site of major interaction between the faculty, staff, students and administration. Its determinations remain only advisory in nature, but play an important role in university governance, a role whose impact unquestionably varies according to a given administration's desire to maintain a strong positive relationship with the various constituencies represented. This year the University Senate will be working with a number of new players on the University scene, including the interim chancellor, new members of the Board of Trustees and the board's new chair. The Senate will be dealing also with possibly far-reaching changes as well, including the Provost's plans for reallocation of funds within units, potential downsizing, the impending study of the reorganization of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Board of Trustees' external evaluation committee, now under way with its work, and not least, the search for a new chancellor.

The scene will be enlivened by the renewed efforts of the United Faculty to achieve unionization. The Board of Trustees may have helped the UF in this regard, albeit inadvertently, by their majority votes approving a golden handshake to the former chancellor while denying pay raises to the faculty for the coming year. In the past two drives to unionize the faculty, the administration also has tended to support the process by overplaying its hand. A plenary session of the Senate as a forum for public debate on the issue of unionization is scheduled for late October. Expect more news on that soon. It will not be business as usual during the coming year, as Pitt attempts to position itself for the 21st century. The Senate executive committee wants to learn about faculty concerns and opinion and looks forward to hearing from you. Keith McDuffie President, University Senate

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