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September 29, 1994

Senate survey yields mixed opinions of dean

School of Dental Medicine Dean Jon B. Suzuki received generally low approval ratings from the 84 dental faculty who responded to a University Senate survey.

Senate leaders conducted the survey in response to complaints by some dental faculty that Suzuki practices an "intimidating" and "autocratic" administrative style that has cost the school a number of outstanding professors and could threaten its accreditation during the school's next review two years from now. In June, a Senate committee responsible for monitoring Pitt's Planning and Budgeting System concluded that the PBS process in the dental school was seriously flawed when a plan to reorganize the school was being developed last year.

Suzuki's supporters — including Thomas Detre, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, who criticized the Senate survey this week — say the dean has corrected the PBS flaws at the school. They also argue that the controversial changes instituted by Suzuki since he became dean in 1990, such as reducing the length of non-tenured faculty contracts from three years to one, were necessary to prevent Pitt's dental school from going under.

The Senate's survey asked dental faculty to state the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with 28 positive statements about Suzuki's performance as dean. For example, the survey's first statement was that Suzuki "inspires and leads the dental school in defining its goals and is establishing priorities among them." Twenty-nine faculty members "definitely disagreed" with the statement and 16 "generally disagreed" (a combined negative response of 54 percent); 13 said they sometimes disagreed and sometimes agreed (a 16 percent neutral response); 14 "generally agreed" and 11 "definitely agreed" (a combined 30 percent positive response). One faculty member circled the "cannot judge/not applicable" response.

Suzuki's disapproval rate in the responses to individual survey statements ranged from 42 percent to 67 percent. The percentage of respondents who approved of his performance ranged from 19 to 41 percent. The Senate did not compile percentages for statements that elicited more than a 20 percent rate of "cannot judge/not applicable" responses.

Of the school's 179 full- and part-time faculty, 47 percent filled out the surveys and returned them to the Senate office. There, the responses were tallied by staff from the Senate and the Office of the Secretary of the University. A double-envelope voting system was employed to confirm that responses were legitimate while guaranteeing respondents' anonymity.

After receiving the tabulated survey results this week, Senate President James Holland sent copies to Suzuki, Senior Vice Chancellor Detre and Provost James Maher. Holland said he will report on the survey at the next meetings of Faculty Assembly and Senate Council on Oct. 4 and 11, respectively.

"I would hope that the administration will take the survey seriously and do what it takes to straighten out the problems in the dental school, because there clearly are big problems," Holland said.

The University Times obtained a copy of the survey results from Holland on Sept. 27 but was unable to reach Suzuki for comment.

Provost Maher said yesterday that he hadn't had time to read the results yet but planned to do so and would discuss the survey with Detre. "I'm very anxious that the Senate leaders know that when they raise an issue like this with me I'm going to take it seriously," said Maher, who became provost July 1.

(Maher met Sept. 23 with a delegation of 13 dental faculty members, Senate President Holland and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Vijai Singh to discuss alleged administrative problems in the school. See story on this page.) Detre said yesterday that the Senate survey was seriously flawed and should not be taken seriously, for the following reasons:

* More than half of dental school faculty members did not bother to respond.

* Relatively few faculty chose the "cannot judge/not applicable" response. "I find that to be most interesting," Detre said. "Not everybody should be able in good conscience to say, 'I can judge this (issue), and it's applicable to me.'"

* Pitt has long-standing procedures by which professors can seek to resolve concerns about alleged wrongdoing by fellow faculty members and academic administrators. "I don't believe that a questionnaire is the way to deal with these things," Detre said. "I know that the answer by some of the activists who very much would like to see a (faculty) union here would be, 'We don't have the courage to speak up because we don't know what will happen to us afterward.' But nobody has ever cited a single example where they (dental faculty) were penalized for speaking their mind or being critical of something."

* The phrasing of some of the survey statements was "somewhat inappropriate and leading," according to Detre.

When Senate President Holland gave Detre a draft of the survey this summer, the senior vice chancellor asked that it be reviewed by Vice Provost Singh and Pitt social psychologist Paul Pilkonis, a specialist in public opinion surveys. "All or most of the suggestions by Dr. Singh and his colleagues were incorporated in the final survey," Detre said. "None of Pilkonis's comments were (included)," Detre noted. "This is not as good as a Gallup poll, this questionnaire. I would not rely on it." Holland said the final version of the dental survey was modeled after a questionnaire, provided by Singh, that had been used in a recent evaluation of Bradford campus President Richard McDowell. "Basically, I went through the survey removing a few statements that weren't appropriate for the dental school and replacing the word 'president' with 'dean' and 'Bradford campus' with 'dental school,'" Holland said.

The Senate president acknowledged that Senate leaders used "few" of Pilkonis's suggestions in the final survey. "He (Pilkonis) disliked virtually every statement in the survey. Frankly, I didn't agree with him," Holland said. Detre and Holland did agree that the Senate questionnaire was a great improvement over an anonymous survey of dental faculty opinions conducted in November 1993. Among other things, that survey indicated that 83 percent of respondents felt intimidated or expected reprisals for voicing opinions for improving the school contrary to those of the school's administration. However, the 1993 survey instructed respondents not to sign their names, so there was no way to confirm that dental faculty actually had filled them out. Also, no campus group took credit for organizing the survey.

Largely in response to that survey, Faculty Assembly in June approved a motion calling for a new dental faculty survey to be monitored by Senate leaders as well as Pitt administrators.

The Senate survey asked faculty to judge, among other things, whether Suzuki:

* "Appoints and retains faculty of high quality" — 58 percent definitely or generally disagreed with the statement, 23 percent definitely or generally agreed, 20 percent were neutral.

* "Makes information available to the faculty to explain the basis of his decision-making and implementation procedures" — 62 percent definitely or generally disagreed, 23 percent definitely or generally agreed, 15 percent were neutral.

* "Represents and promotes the interest of the dental school within the University community" — 49 percent definitely or generally disagreed, 41 percent definitely or generally agreed, 11 percent were neutral.

* "Makes clear to the faculty the basis of resource allocation within the dental school" — 67 percent definitely or generally disagreed, 23 percent definitely or generally agreed, 10 percent were neutral.

* "Considers faculty opinion in arriving at administrative decisions" — 65 percent definitely or generally disagreed, 22 percent definitely or generally agreed, 13 percent were neutral.

* "Follows through on commitments" — 42 percent definitely or generally disagreed, 41 definitely or generally agreed, 17 percent were neutral.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 3

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