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May 13, 2004

Salaries, Benefits Among Issues Senate Plans to Tackle This Year, Re-elected President Says

The University Senate’s current officers have been re-elected for one-year terms beginning July 1.
They include:
• Nicholas G. Bircher, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine, re-elected as president.
• Irene Hanson Frieze, professor of psychology, business administration and women’s studies, re-elected vice president, and
• Josephine E. Olson, professor of business administration and economics, re-elected secretary.
In an interview following the May 4 Faculty Assembly meeting, Bircher identified several issues that Senate groups plan to focus on in the coming year: salaries and benefits, including the possible extension of Pitt health benefits to employees’ same-sex partners (see story on page ?), shared governance, faculty’s role in overseeing intercollegiate athletics, and support and advancement of women faculty and staff.
Assembly discussed last week what role, if any, professors here and at other universities play in governing NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletics programs, ensuring academic integrity and looking out for the welfare of student-athletes. The Assembly tabled a resolution by the Senate’s athletics committee, which had recommended that Pitt not join (or endorse an athletic reform plan promoted by) the Coalition of Intercollegiate Athletics, a national group of faculty from universities that compete in major NCAA conferences.
“I would say that, overall, faculty input in Pitt’s athletics program is pretty good at this point,” Bircher said. “There is evidence from the coalition that faculty at some other universities do not have meaningful input into athletics, whereas here we have a Senate athletics committee, we have faculty representation on the Board of Trustees’ committee on athletics, and we examine athletics budgets through the UPBS [University Planning and Budgeting System] and the Senate’s budget policies committee.
“In that regard, we are, perhaps ahead of the pack, nationally,” Bircher said. “But still, I think in the coming year we ought to examine and evaluate the faculty’s role in helping to govern our athletics program and setting policy for it.”
Bircher said he also expects that issues will emerge in the next year from deliberations of the Senate’s new committee for the support and advancement of women at Pitt.
“That committee will be looking at areas where Pitt might do better in advancing the interests of women faculty and staff, things like promoting a supportive environment for integrating family and career,” said Bircher.
Pitt already has grievance procedures in place for employees who believe they’ve been treated unfairly here, he noted. “But to the extent that some people, including women faculty, feel they haven’t been heard, we need to explore how they could potentially get a more fair proceeding.”
Shared governance (the subject of a Senate plenary meeting last fall) is another perennial issue, said Bircher. “The chancellor and the provost are pretty good [about giving faculty and staff a voice in University governance] but not all administrators support this kind of inclusiveness,” he said.
Bircher has been outspoken in criticizing reported abuses of power against Pitt faculty by officials of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP) practice plan. But last week, he pointed to recent improvements in the corporate culture of both organizations.
According to Bircher, fundamental issues related to Pitt medical faculty – including alleged violations of medical professors’ academic freedom, and retaliation against faculty whistle-blowers – are being addressed by ongoing lawsuits filed last year by two former Magee Womens Hospital pathologists against Magee, UPMC, UPP and Pitt itself.
Kenneth S. McCarty Jr. and Susan Silver have, among other things, accused Magee of falsifying thousands of Pap smear test results, compromising patient care for the sake of profits.
“Pitt clinical chairs are designated as managers within the UPP,” Bircher said, “and in some cases they have followed different rules of expected behavior depending on whether they were wearing their UPP-UPMC hat or their University of Pittsburgh hat.
“I think that still remains as a problem,” Bircher added. “But I think the clinical chairs have, to some extent, been served notice [by the McCarty and Silver lawsuits] that there are certain varieties of behavior that will ultimately land them in court.”
The Senate president said Pitt medical faculty “probably get treated more fairly today than they did right after the inception of the UPP” in the late 1990s. Bircher said recent changes in the UPMC leadership represent “positive developments” for faculty, especially the hiring of former U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Cindrich as UPMC’s chief legal counsel.
– Bruce Steele

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