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October 12, 1995

Senate Council OKs policy for making major program changes

A new policy, approved by Senate Council this week, spells out procedures that Pitt should follow in creating, expanding, shrinking, merging and terminating academic programs.

The 10-page, single-spaced document, called "Guidelines for the Review of Academic Planning Proposals," covers changes in majors, degree programs, academic departments and schools.

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg is expected to give final approval to the policy this month.

The new guidelines replace the University's Planning and Resources Management System, which had been in effect since the 1980s.

Whenever possible, proposals for changes in academic programs should take place within the University's three-year-old Planning and Budgeting System (PBS), according to the guidelines.

"PBS provides collegial structures for appropriate participation by administrators, faculty, staff and students at each level of decision making. The PBS process facilitates the instructional, research and service activities of the University by ensuring full access to relevant information and providing a rational, clear and consistent framework for planning and budgeting decisions," the guidelines note.

All academic program proposals must be consistent with the missions and long-range plans of the units involved, the guidelines state.

Also, under the guidelines: * Proposals should be reviewed by the units' planning and budgeting committees, which are intended to give faculty, staff and students a voice in unit planning.

* Proposals calling for "fundamental" changes in academic programs should be reviewed by the University Council on Graduate Studies and the Provost's Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Programs, as deemed appropriate by the provost.

* Fundamental changes requiring significant additional expenditures of Pitt funds would also be reviewed by the University Planning and Budgeting Committee, which advises the chancellor on planning and budgeting matters.

The guidelines define a "fundamental" change as the establishment, merger or termination of a department, center or school or a "significant alteration" of the unit's academic mission.

The guidelines will have no impact on a 1983 Pitt policy that safeguards the employment and academic freedom of tenured faculty whose units are downsized or eliminated, University senior administrators told Senate Council.

At the request of Faculty Assembly (which endorsed the guidelines at its Oct. 3 meeting), University Senate President Keith McDuffie will appoint a committee to compare Pitt's 1983 policy with the protections offered by other universities to their faculty whose units are cut or terminated. McDuffie said the ad hoc group may propose changes in the Pitt policy.

In other Senate Council business, the Council joined Faculty Assembly in voting to table — and, in effect, kill — a proposed new policy requiring job performance reviews of tenured faculty.

Faculty and administrative members of Council agreed that the new policy would have been redundant because the University already has a policy requiring annual performance reviews of all Pitt faculty, including tenured ones. That policy appears in Pitt's Faculty Handbook.

But not all departments have complied with the existing policy, senior administrators acknowledged. So, the Provost's office this year sent letters to all deans and regional campus presidents reminding them of the requirement and telling them to report on faculty job evaluations in their units. Provost James Maher said he expects to receive responses from all schools and campuses by the end of October.

The push for mandatory post-tenure reviews of faculty originated last year with the Board of Trustees. Some trustees reportedly were worried that the University administration was powerless to discipline incompetent tenured faculty. Now that federal law prohibits mandatory retirement ages, tenure amounts to a guaranteed lifetime contract, the trustees claimed. They passed along their concerns to then-Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor, who brought them to the Senate's attention.

A special Senate committee, chaired by Glenn Nelson of administrative and policy studies, spent months drafting and re-writing the proposal that ultimately was tabled by Faculty Assembly and Senate Council this month. Senate President McDuffie thanked Nelson and his committee, saying their work was not in vain because it focused attention on the Faculty Handbook policy and raised an issue that Senate leaders plan to pursue: how to mediate disputes when faculty members and their supervisors disagree over performance evaluations.

In other Senate Council and Faculty Assembly business: * Assembly members unanimously endorsed a Senate budget policies committee (BPC) recommendation on faculty salary raises for fiscal year 1996-97. Council supported the recommendation by a vote of 15-1, with eight members (including McDuffie, Provost Maher and Interim Chancellor Nordenberg) abstaining.

BPC recommends that next year's pool for salary raises for continuing faculty include a 3 percent inflation increase for satisfactory performance, 2 percent for merit raises and 1 percent for equity and market adjustments. The committee said its formula would add up to less than a 6 percent increase in the faculty salary budget because some professors will retire and resign next year, and will be replaced by faculty at lower salaries. BPC also noted that faculty will receive no raises this year, or minimal ones at best.

Marick F. Masters, of the Katz Graduate School of Business, said he voted against the recommendation because Council lacked adequate budget data to judge whether the BPC figures were "reasonable" or "meaningful." Masters said he would have preferred to vote for a shifting of University priorities that would give faculty salaries higher priority than the administration currently gives them.

Nordenberg and Maher said faculty raises should be given high priority in next year's budget, but abstained from the vote because the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (which Maher, as provost, chairs) has not yet made its own recommendations on salaries.

Pitt's Staff Association Council (SAC) has recommended a 7 percent salary pool increase for all staff. SAC President Brian Hart said his group recommended a higher percentage raise than BPC's because most staff salaries are considerably lower than faculty salaries.

Pitt's administration, in its FY 1996-97 state budget request, asked Harrisburg for a 5 percent combined salary/fringe benefit increase for most faculty and staff. The exceptions would be employees in the School of Medicine, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and the Services for Teens at Risk program, where increases would be 2.5 percent.

* Darlene Lewis, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, said Pitt's administration recently signed contracts with three Blue Cross plans (Comprehensive, SelectBlue and the Keystone HMO) and expects to sign a contract this week with Pitt's other Blue Cross option, the University Health Network. Although Blue Cross has been Pitt's sole provider of employee health insurance since July 1, the arrangement had not been formalized by written contracts until now.

Human Resources will give copies of the contracts to the Senate's health and welfare committee and will make the contracts available to other University personnel on-line, Lewis said.

The contracts will run through June 30, 1998. In January 1998, Pitt will solicit new bids for its employee health insurance business, Lewis said.

* University Senate President McDuffie said he and other members of the Senate's executive committee met for two hours Sept. 29 with J. Wray Connolly, the new chairperson of Pitt's Board of Trustees. "I felt it was a very worthwhile meeting and that we established a good basis for communication," McDuffie told Senate Council.

He predicted that Connolly will preside over an "activist" board that will reflect the "very energetic" nature of its chairperson. Conflicts between the trustees and Senate probably will be inevitable on some issues, but at least both sides seem committed to communicating openly with each other, McDuffie said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 4

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