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September 12, 1996

Trustees look at role of faculty, staff, students on committees

University Senate President Keith McDuffie says he feels confident that "a compromise acceptable to all parties" will be worked out on the controversial issue of faculty, staff and student representation on Board of Trustees committees.

Since 1992, faculty, staff and student representatives have been voting members of all board committees except executive and compensation.

But a comprehensive review of Pitt operations, released in January and written by a consulting group led by James Fisher, included a recommendation that faculty, staff and students be removed from board committees. Fisher's group argued that the presence of the three constituencies on the committees encouraged campus groups to bypass the chancellor.

Some trustees also claimed they could not speak freely at meetings with faculty, staff and students present.

The Board of Trustees initially was expected to vote June 20 on a proposal to remove those groups from trustees committees. But the board instead accepted a resolution from its nominations committee, recommending that the trustees first study other ways that faculty, staff and students could have input on board committee decisions.

The board appointed a special committee made up of trustees Jeffrey S. Blum and E. Jeanne Gleason to study the issue and make recommendations to the board prior to its winter meeting next February.

This month, the special committee began interviewing faculty, staff and student representatives. After meeting with Blum and Gleason, Senate President McDuffie told Faculty Assembly (at its Sept. 3 meeting) and Senate Council (Sept. 9) that he felt hopeful that the board representation issue will be resolved to the satisfaction of most faculty, staff, students and trustees.

"I think what the [special trustees] committee will try to do is work out a compromise that will allow us to stay on the board committees," McDuffie told Senate Council members. But he added, "That compromise is going to have to satisfy quite a few people.

"Some of the trustees are very concerned about our presence — I gather, for reasons of security, although I don't quite understand the problem there. But I think the [special] committee is positive about our being on board committees and so are many trustees, who recognize our value in bringing our expertise and experience to their meetings. I think that a lot of them [trustees] support the communication process that exists because of our presence on those committees." Later in the Council meeting, Staff Association Council President Brian Hart noted that he had met that day, Sept. 9, with the special committee. Hart described Gleason and Blum's approach toward open communication as "glasnost tempered with good sense." When some student government leaders on Council complained that the special committee had not scheduled interviews with them, McDuffie pointed out that the interview process had just begun and that they could expect soon to be invited to meet with Blum and Gleason.

Blum declined to comment, except to say: "While we have started the process, we really are in the beginning stages. But I can say that we do want to interview representatives of all interested campus groups." One problem in scheduling interviews, Blum said, is coordinating the schedules of Pitt personnel with his own schedule and that of Gleason, who lives in Johnstown.

Blum is an attorney with the Downtown firm of Klett Lieber Rooney and Schorling. Gleason is executive director of the Pennsylvania Rural Arts Alliance.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 2

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