Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

July 6, 1999

Forum criticizes some schools' systems for evaluating faculty

Forum criticizes some schools' systems for evaluating faculty

Professors at the July 6 Faculty Assembly forum on faculty job performance systems agreed that such systems are beneficial and hold faculty accountable to the public.

But new faculty evaluation systems in two Health Sciences schools drew fire from some Assembly members.

Dental medicine professor John Baker panned his school's new point-based system, claiming it makes unrealistic demands on basic scientists while awarding unfairly high point totals to clinicians and school administrators.

For example, clinicians can earn satisfactory job performance ratings simply by spending 90 percent of their work weeks at the dental clinic, Baker noted. School administrators with multiple titles can be awarded enough points for a satisfactory rating without ever teaching, doing research or clinical work, writing a paper or applying for a grant.

In contrast, Baker said, non-clinical faculty lacking external funding grants are at the mercy of school administrators, who control teaching and committee assignments that such faculty need in order to earn sufficient points for a satisfactory rating.

Two School of Medicine professors also criticized their school's new policy. Under it, the base salary of a tenured professor who fails to meet departmental productivity standards can be cut by up to 20 percent a year (with a freeze on cost-of-living raises) until total compensation drops to the median salary associated with tenure.

"Even then, this salary would only be warranted for satisfactory full-time teaching," the policy states.

Nicholas Bircher, an untenured professor in the anesthesiology department, said the policy fails to take into account what he called "the extraordinary primacy" of clinical work over teaching and research in the medical school.

Part of the policy's "lopsidedness," Bircher complained, is that it pressures medical faculty to set academic performance goals "without guaranteeing one minute of time to perform those academic duties."

Ake Grenvik, a tenured professor of critical care medicine at Pitt for the last 25 years, said medical Dean Arthur S. Levine used the evaluation process in trying to intimidate him into retiring and therby reducing the school's expenses.

Grenvik said Levine summoned him to a meeting in March, when Grenvik was about to turn 70. Levine's opening statement at the meeting "was simply that we have a right as tenured faculty members [in the medical school] to continued employment, but not the right to continued salary," according to Grenvik.

The ensuing discussion was "intimidating, humiliating, even threatening," Grenvik said, as the dean tried to convince him to retire — mainly on the grounds that Grenvik teaches but no longer does clinical work, and so isn't producing revenue for the school.

However, anesthesiology department chairperson Leonard Firestone, Grenvik's supervisor, attended the meeting with Grenvik and Levine and remembers it differently.

"It was a discourse that was bilateral between the dean and Dr. Grenvik," Firestone said in a phone interview yesterday. "I did not perceive any intimidating overtones, nor did Ake indicate that he felt intimidated at the time.

"He may have come to feel that way in retrospect, but at the time it seemed like a healthy discussion of what Ake's options would be in the context of the school's new policy on salaries."

That policy, which went into effect July 1, distinguishes between the part of a tenured professor's salary related to his or her academic role and the part that is available by virtue of the faculty member's clinical productivity.

Grenvik said Levine told him that if he expected to continue receiving a salary just to teach, he would have to teach for 40 hours a week. "I said that would, at the very least, necessitate an equal number of hours for preparation, but that [statement] was sort of swept away as if it did not count," said Grenvik, whose faculty appointment was reduced to half-time this month.

Levine, who is senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences as well as medical dean, yesterday referred a University Times request for comment to Senior Associate Dean Charles "Chip" Reynolds.

Reynolds did not return a call from the University Times yesterday. But he attended Tuesday's Faculty Assembly meeting and spoke briefly there.

While Reynolds declined to comment on Grenvik's accusations, saying he had not attended the March meeting to which Grenvik referred, Reynolds did say that the school's new faculty salary/evaluation policy is aimed at "bringing into balance total compensation and the [comparatively lower] income generated by faculty."

At a time when the average Pitt medical school student graduates $120,000 in debt, the school can't generate more income by hiking tuition, Reynolds said.

Economics professor Herbert Chesler suggested that Grenvik sue for age discrimination. But Grenvik said he wasn't interested in taking Pitt to court. "I'm interested in equality and a University-wide policy that would be the basis for due process" in faculty performance evaluations.

Pitt already has such a policy, other Assembly members pointed out.

In April, Provost James Maher distributed to deans a list of issues to be addressed in annual reviews of faculty.

The list, jointly drafted by the Council of Deans and the Senate's tenure and academic freedom committee, includes examples of documentation that faculty should submit as a prelude to the annual review process.

It also details the expectations that faculty should be able to assume about their annual review process — for example, "that when changes are made in goals and objectives because of departmental or school needs or emergencies during the academic year, changes should be submitted to the faculty member in writing with copies placed in departmental or school files."

— Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply