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November 24, 2004

Senate Committee Declines to ask for Student Survey Data

The University Senate’s educational policies committee (SEPC) backed away from requesting undergraduate student satisfaction survey results, following a discussion with a senior official from the Provost’s office.

SEPC had been urged by Faculty Assembly to request from Provost James V. Maher the survey results to aid in evaluating two separate documents that offer recommendations on improving the campus climate for students. (See Nov. 11 University Times.)

Pitt surveyed freshmen, sophomores and juniors from 1997 to 2001, and then again this past spring, according to Jack L. Daniel, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, dean of students and chancellor’s liaison to SEPC.

Daniel said the survey had some 50 questions covering eight domains of student satisfaction. “The problem with sharing the results is that this was done strictly for formative purposes and its confidential information was meant for the eyes of the provost and his senior staff,” he said. “That was the purpose of the survey. We’re not trying to be secretive. We’ve used it to guide our interventions as necessary.”

In addition, students who consented to be surveyed were assured that the results of the survey would not be made public, Daniel told the educational policies committee Nov. 16.

SEPC members pressed Daniel about providing an overview or summary of the survey, but Daniel countered that a summary would not only force further discussion. “I’m going to make up something totally false, to give you an example,” Daniel said. “Suppose I said the School of Education was the worst environment for students by far than any other school. What would happen? People would demand answers: Why is this so? What are your data? What’s being done about it? Who’s responsible? That was not the purpose of this formative survey, and I think the request (to the provost) is inappropriate.”

SEPC members then voted to report the gist of their discussion to Faculty Assembly for further instructions, which could include requesting resources from the Provost’s office to perform a separate student survey.

The committee will continue to evaluate the recommendations of the two campus climate documents under its review, SEPC chair Thomas Metzger said.

The documents are the 2001 “Campus Climate Survey,” which was published by Pitt’s women’s studies program, and “Campus Climate” by Susan Rankin, which is a report of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued in 2003.

“We still will work with the [Senate] anti-discriminatory polices committee to look at these documents” as they apply to current student satisfaction on the Pittsburgh campus, Metzger said.


In other SEPC developments:

* The committee discussed Pitt’s academic integrity standards, particularly whether policies applying to student cheating are uniform.

Daniel pointed out that the Provost’s office web site ( posts guidelines on student cheating and other academic integrity issues, including the grievance process and sanctions.

Those guidelines, which were approved by Pitt’s Office of General Counsel, were distributed to all deans, who were charged with preparing school-specific policies based on that model, Daniel said.

“There may be some differences regarding the curriculum or what rules govern a practicum or a lab depending on the school,” Daniel cited as an example.

“All schools have prepared a policy and those have been approved by General Counsel,” he noted. The information is well disseminated, Daniel said, including at faculty orientation, in faculty and student handbooks and on academic unit web sites.

* The committee accepted the conclusions of the Nov. 8 report issued by Arts and Sciences Dean N. John Cooper on the Department of Communication. That report countered allegations in a confidential – but leaked to some media – report by outside reviewers that the department had a culture of intimate relations between faculty and students, which is expressly forbidden by Pitt’s Policy 02-04-03.

In April the SEPC took a wait-and-see stance pending the report from Cooper, who asked Pitt’s Office of General Counsel to investigate the allegations. (See April 29 University Times.)

“His report said this did happen in the past, it’s not happening in the present, and so we have nothing more to do with that as a committee,” Metzger said. “If those problems had continued, we might have pursued something.”

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 7

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