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June 9, 2016

Writing Senate Matters

Since at least September 1995 (as far back as the online University Times archive goes), an important way in which the faculty communicate to the wider University community has been through the Senate Matters column. Over the last several years the column, overseen by the Senate vice president, has appeared in every other issue of the University Times. Topics have ranged from sustainability and salaries to mentoring female faculty and the meaning of shared governance. The hope is that the content is readable, relatable and relevant.

In the last two years, Senate Vice President Irene Frieze has focused the columns on matters of particular interest to the Senate officers and Senate committees. The Senate president traditionally writes the first column of the academic year, outlining some of the issues facing the Senate in the year ahead. Last year Lori Molinaro, director in the Office of the University Senate, wrote a column about her experiences running the Senate office and website. We also had a column by Senate budget policies committee chair Beverly Gaddy on the important activities of her Senate committee. In other columns, Lorraine Denman described her experiences as both a part-time and now a full-time non-tenure-stream faculty member, and Seth Weinberg, chair of the spring plenary session planning committee, outlined why the session was focusing on academic freedom. Irene also contributed a column about her 30 years of experience in working on the Senate.

In the coming year, Robin Kear, who takes over as Senate vice president July 1, will be managing this column. She believes that the content should be relevant to issues that are vital to the Senate and of importance to all faculty, not just those involved with the Senate. A few of the questions she wants to explore with the help of faculty writers: Do we need trigger warnings or other warnings related to mature content in classrooms? How do we know what research or University-related papers/digital content to discard, shred or donate to the University Archives? How should we handle official requests for information? What is the current state of the digital humanities at Pitt? How should we deal with changing methods of scholarly communications and research metrics? Is there an increasing amount of governmental regulation affecting our work?

Robin also will continue the tradition of having the Senate president detail the group’s plans for the year in the first fall-term column. That first-archived September 1995 Senate Matters column by then-President Keith McDuffie could have been talking about the 2016-17 Senate:

• “The University Senate will be working with a number of new players on the University scene.” This year we also have several new vice chancellors and other senior administrators.

• “The scene will be enlivened by the renewed efforts of the United Faculty to achieve unionization.” The United Steelworkers have launched a drive to organize full- and part-time faculty in one group and graduate student employees in another group.

• “The Senate will be dealing … with possibly far-reaching changes.” Changes in intellectual property rights are among the issues that are of utmost concern to faculty now.

• “The Senate executive committee wants to learn about faculty concerns and opinion and looks forward to hearing from you.” It goes without saying that we want your input.

McDuffie continued: “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.” This is still true today due to the dedicated faculty serving in various Senate roles.

If you have ideas you think should be addressed in the Senate Matters column and/or would like to write a column yourself, please let Robin know. She will be happy to hear from you. n

Irene Hanson Frieze ( is the outgoing vice president of the Senate and an emeritus professor of psychology. Robin Kear ( is the incoming vice president and a faculty librarian in Hillman Library.

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