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October 15, 2015

Senate ad hoc group to tackle part-time NTS faculty issues

A new University Senate ad hoc committee will focus on part-time non-tenure-stream (NTS) faculty issues, continuing the work of an expiring ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream (NTS) faculty issues that had limited its scope to full-time NTS faculty.

In addition to approving a new ad hoc committee to investigate part-time and other NTS issues, Faculty Assembly on Oct. 6 heard the NTS faculty ad hoc committee’s expanded final report.

The new ad hoc committee’s goals include:

• Developing greater understanding of the nature of part-time NTS appointments across the University, to distinguish between those who teach an occasional course and those NTS faculty who have a continuing relationship with the University.

• Proposing ways to improve the terms of employment and work environment for part-time NTS faculty.

• Reviewing implementation of its predecessor’s recommendations and continuing efforts to improve the work environment and terms of employment for full-time NTS faculty.

Senate bylaws limit special committees to a two-year time span. The ad hoc committee on NTS faculty issues, constituted in September 2013 (see Sept. 12, 2013, University Times), chose to focus on full-time NTS faculty due to the complexity and multitude of issues pertaining to NTS faculty.

University Senate President Frank Wilson, who served on the ad hoc committee, explained that when the committee first began mapping out areas to explore, “we quickly realized that we could not deal with the complete spectrum. And so we started with a focus only on the full-time non-tenure-stream faculty,” adding that “the continuing committee will start looking at the situation of part-time non-tenure-stream faculty and all of its complexity.”

Senate Vice President Irene Frieze, who chaired the ad hoc committee, said, “We did as much as we could in our two-year time period,” adding that members could continue on the new committee, but that new members are needed as well.

“We want some part-time people, or people with part-time experience to join the committee. We think we need that very badly,” she said.

Initial recommendations

Frieze said: “One of the first things we learned as we started researching this issue is how different the different parts of the University are. Our own thoughts about how non-tenure-stream faculty function in our unit may not be true in other parts of the University.”

Titles vary from unit to unit, “and sometimes the same titles are used to mean very different things in different units,” Frieze said. In addition, the University gives units the power to determine such details as contract lengths, job duties, salaries, the annual review process, career tracks, promotion incentives and procedures, and the criteria for being designated emeritus.

“We were really surprised at how much variation there was across units,” she said.

In a report to the Senate in February (see Feb. 19 and March 5 University Times), the committee recommended, with regard to full-time NTS faculty:

• Clearly explained, accessible policies or guidelines for NTS faculty appointment, review and promotion.

• Clearly defined paths for promotion and career development for NTS faculty.

• Annual reviews to clearly explain job duties and expectations, and salary and promotion decisions to be based on meeting those expectations.

• A clear incentive structure related to NTS faculty promotion.

• A systematic review to determine whether some school- or unit-level decisions should be done at a higher level to increase consistency across units.

Additional recommendations

In her Oct. 6 report to Faculty Assembly, Frieze presented the committee’s expanded recommendations, which call for NTS faculty to have:

• Institutional support and recognition appropriate to their faculty roles and responsibilities. The committee called for NTS faculty to have access to professional development opportunities, including travel funding for attendance at conferences or participation in workshops. The committee also called for units to make their processes for allocating professional development funding fair and transparent.

• A role in units’ decision-making processes and governance structures. NTS faculty could contribute in areas such as curricular revisions and development, recruiting and selecting faculty for new appointments or for promotions (especially of fellow NTS faculty members), student affairs and graduate admissions.

Frieze said “enormous steps” have been taken in this area in recent years, calling attention to changes in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences that now routinely include NTS faculty in its units’ decision-making processes.

In addition, the ad hoc committee expanded on its earlier call for clear, accessible policies. “We had advocated that every unit make their policies available on the Internet,” Frieze said. “We’ve now added to our general recommendation that these publicly presented policies should include policies related to salary reductions or terminations,” in light of a report last month by the Senate ad hoc committee tasked with reviewing the University’s current guidelines for evaluating tenured faculty and associated salary decisions. That group called for University-wide guidelines for evaluating tenured faculty performance, and clearly defined processes for appeals and for remediation of unsatisfactory performance. (See Sept. 17 University Times.)

Expanded NTS eligibility for emeritus/emerita status

In a related matter, Faculty Assembly endorsed the provost’s proposal to make non-tenured faculty eligible for emeritus/emerita status upon retirement.

The University’s current policy limits the designation to tenured professors or associate professors, allowing non-tenure-stream faculty to be recommended “in exceptional cases.”

In alignment with existing policy for tenure-stream faculty, the emeritus/emerita designation would be granted to non-tenure-stream professors or associate professors “who have provided honorable service for the 10 years immediately prior to retirement, subject to the recommendation of the academic unit and approval by the provost,” Provost Patricia E. Beeson stated in a Sept. 15 letter that asked for the Senate’s review and endorsement.

The Council of Deans approved the proposal Sept. 3, the provost stated. Following Assembly’s approval, the proposal moved to Senate Council, which met yesterday, Oct. 14, after the University Times went to press.

President’s report

In a report delivered via email prior to the Assembly meeting, Wilson stated that an initial videoconference meeting with regional faculty senate officers from the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses went well and that a follow-up will be scheduled soon.

“We were able to discuss challenging issues and compare our experiences as we pursue our common mission of undergraduate teaching. Also eye opening for all was to hear about the significant experiential differences among us. One realistic expectation is that using this technology will help link faculty from remote locations in collaborative efforts, and provide a way for them to become more directly involved in the work of the Senate.”

Plenary plans progress

Wilson reported that he will be part of a planning committee for the March 30, 2016, Senate plenary session on academic freedom. Joining Wilson and Seth Weinberg of dental medicine on the planning committee  are: Senate tenure and academic freedom committee members Chris Bonneau of political science and Rose Constantino of nursing; Pitt’s AAUP chapter president Beverly Gaddy, UPG faculty member in political science; Senate past presidents Nick Bircher of medicine and Michael Spring of information sciences; and Frieze of psychology.

Wilson encouraged faculty to use the discussion board at to provide suggestions on plenary session speakers, topics and concerns related to academic freedom.

Weinberg encouraged Assembly members to solicit suggestions from colleagues in their units.

—Kimberly K. Barlow       

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 4

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