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December 9, 2004

Assembly Still Pursuing Info on Pitt Campus Climate for Students

Faculty Assembly is urging the University Senate’s educational policies committee (EPC) to continue investigating issues pertaining to the campus climate at Pitt for students, particularly undergraduates.

Following a lengthy discussion at its Nov. 30 meeting, the Assembly asked EPC chair Thomas Metzger to request the survey instrument – as opposed to the actual survey data – from the provost’s student satisfaction survey, as a preliminary step in judging whether data relevant to Pitt’s campus climate already are available.

The provost’s office had conducted a student satisfaction survey of freshmen, sophomores and juniors from 1997 to 2001, and then again this past year.

Metzger reported to the Assembly that EPC had abandoned the quest for information on the provost’s survey at the recommendation of Vice Provost Jack Daniel, who deemed such a request “inappropriate.”

Daniel told EPC Nov. 16, “The survey was done strictly for formative purposes and its confidential information was meant for the eyes of the provost and his senior staff.” (See Nov. 24 University Times.)

But Assembly members argued last week that data from that survey may align with campus climate issues, recently raised by two published reports, the “Campus Climate Survey,” which was disseminated in 2001 by Pitt’s women’s studies program, and “Campus Climate” by Susan Rankin, a report of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued in 2003.

Assembly members agreed that neither of those documents is adequate to draw conclusions on the general campus climate at Pitt, which they maintained was worth exploring.

Suggestions at the Assembly ranged from “piggy-backing” on future student satisfaction surveys, to pushing Provost’s office officials to reveal the data (perhaps in confidence to EPC, or perhaps in summary form), to launching a new survey directed at campus climate issues.

“The problem is,” Metzger said,” surveys are an enormous amount of work. And unless we get resources to do a survey, I’d prefer to pass on [executing and analyzing] a survey.”

Assembly member Carey Balaban added that a “needs assessment” should appropriately precede any requests for University resources.

Senate Vice President Irene Frieze told Assembly members to hone in on specific issues they think relevant for EPC to evaluate and to send suggestions and questions to Metzger. “First let’s make a list of issues of what the issues are,” Frieze said. “What is it we want to know? That may differ for different people.”


In other Faculty Assembly business:

* The University Senate’s tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) has endorsed the recommendations of the provost’s ad hoc committee on academic freedom, which were issued in June.

The ad hoc committee, chaired by Arts and Sciences Dean N. John Cooper, had recommended establishing an “advisory structure,” that is, a standing committee for “when external circumstances arise that actually or potentially threaten the academic freedom of departments, schools or the University as a whole [at which time] the provost may benefit from the advice of a broader group with a role complementary to that of the Senate TAFC.”

The new standing committee, which would include non-TAFC faculty and administrators, as well as at least one TAFC member, would be responsible for naming smaller ad hoc committees, which also would require TAFC representation, to examine external issues at the provost’s request.

As an example, the ad hoc committee cited clinical faculty whose prescription options might be constrained by insurance reimbursement limits but, because of academic freedom policies, would not be constrained when teaching students about the relative merits of various drugs.

James Holland, former chair of TAFC, told the Assembly he could not endorse a standing committee that usurped TAFC’s mission. “If anything, TAFC should be the parent committee who would appoint such a subcommittee,” Holland said.

TAFC chair Michael Pinsky reported that in its review of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, some TAFC members likewise raised concerns that the proposed standing committee either may duplicate TAFC or may bypass faculty input on academic freedom, traditionally the purview of the TAFC.

“However, the majority felt that since this proposal lists a mandatory inclusion of TAFC representation, the interests of the faculty are [protected],” Pinsky told Faculty Assembly. “TAFC understands that when institutional concerns are in play regarding academic freedom infringement, a wider group of opinions and concerns need to be at the table. The overall philosophies were appropriate and [the recommendations] did contribute to shared governance by appointing TAFC members.”

Balaban, also a member of TAFC, who, in addition, served on the provost’s ad hoc committee that made the recommendations, added that safeguards in the recommendations protected faculty interests. “If you read the report [of the ad hoc committee], you’ll see clearly that the role of TAFC is delineated, acknowledged and preserved,” Balaban maintained.

Provost James Maher currently is taking the recommendations of the ad hoc committee on academic freedom under advisement, Pinsky said.

In response to the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, Maher issued a statement that said he is waiting for a final report from a “tobacco committee,” an ad hoc group addressing “the problem posed by Pennsylvania’s position on funding research grants through the tobacco settlement [and] reviewing the relationship between government grants from tobacco settlement funds and academic freedom.”

After that report is issued, “I will be better able to assess exactly how to structure an effective ongoing advisory group,” Maher wrote.

(Related documents on these issues are posted on the Office of the Provost’s web site link:

* Nathan Hershey, who chaired a Senate-appointed committee to make recommendations on establishing an expedited faculty grievance process, reported that that process has been approved and is being implemented. A faculty member now has the option to request a provost-appointed “hearing officer” as an alternative to the standard format of a review committee of core faculty. The faculty member further can opt to reject the hearing officer within five days of his or her appointment and return to the standard grievance procedure, Hershey said.

Hershey reported that a request to extend a similar model to tenure disputes was denied by the provost. Faculty Assembly then asked Hershey to discuss that request with the provost again.

* James Cassing, immediate past president of the University Senate, resigned from the Senate, effective at the end of the term. Cassing will be conducting research in Africa, beginning in the spring. Hershey, the Senate president prior to Cassing, agreed to replace Cassing in the immediate past president slot.

* Current Senate President Nicholas Bircher reported that the administration has no plans to revive the Faculty Club. “In my opinion, if we wish to pursue this issue, we’ll have to come up with an economically viable plan of our own,” Bircher said. “Most of the clubs in Oakland are having fairly significant financial difficulties, so it’s not an easy time to run that kind of operation.”

(See Senate Matters column on page 2.)

* Bircher reported on a Nov. 16 closed meeting of Senate and faculty leaders from the regional campuses, during which benchmarking faculty salaries at the regionals was discussed. Bircher has requested the regional campus leaders to make a list of appropriate institutions against which to benchmark faculty salaries, and to conduct a traditional “market test,” that is, study the effect of faculty compensation levels on recruitment and retention at the regional campuses. “The Senate cannot change salary, but the Senate budget policies committee and UPBC (the University planning and budgeting committee), for example, will give this issue a fair hearing and make recommendations to the administration,” Bircher said.

(See related letter and response on page 2.)

* Bircher said that the topic for the Senate’s spring plenary session, which tentatively had been set as “Athletics: Do we have enough say?” is under reconsideration. “I gather that the [Senate] athletics committee consensus was that we do have enough say and the merits of such a plenary would be limited,” Bircher said. “We do have alternative topics that we can pursue if we choose not to pursue that one.”

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 8

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