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November 21, 1996


The University of Pittsburgh, along with American higher education, is in a state of crisis. Crisis, a term derived from the Greek krisis — decision, judgment, event, issue — means a turning point, a vitally important or decisive stage, as well as a time of trouble, danger or suspense in institutional as well as personal life. It can be a positive as well as negative situation. What it cannot be is ignored. Evidence of this fact is the recent abrupt "near freeze" on faculty appointments in FAS, at a time when numerous searches were well under way. Another example is the increasingly difficult time younger faculty are facing in achieving tenure. Signs are everywhere that rapid and profound changes will characterize American higher education in the next decade. What are some of the changes we may expect and how will they affect the University of Pittsburgh? My (not entirely infallible) crystal ball tells me that we may expect the following:

* Increasing competition for undergraduate students. Not only does this imply maintaining strong academic programs, but also providing essential amenities such as good residential and recreational facilities, strong advising and career counseling facilities, etc. The University's capital planning document shows clearly that we intend to compete actively in the next decade, even at the very real risk of straining our financial capabilities. (What implications does this have for faculty salaries and tuition costs?)

* Increasing pressure to lower the costs of educating students, both graduate and undergraduate. At stake, among other things, will be the institution of tenure and traditional faculty career patterns because of the increased use of part-time faculty (lower salaries, fewer institutional costs for benefits) and non-tenure stream faculty on limited term contracts. More rapid responses to "market" conditions also will become possible as the number of tenured faculty is reduced and tenure even effectively eliminated in many cases. Examples of both tendencies already exist within the University community.

* Increasing class sizes and heavier teaching schedules also will be part of the mix (reflecting analogous pressures in the University medical school and teaching hospitals to increase clinical plan practices at the expense of research and teaching). Obviously, both tendencies have negative implications for maintaining strong academic programs.

* Downsizing or even elimination of graduate programs, even those of established quality, will be seen as a cost-cutting measure. Most graduate programs tend not to pay for themselves, at least if we are to judge by the prevailing accounting methods. In graduate programs that provide teaching assistants for undergraduate instruction, part-time and full-time non-tenured instructors may provide even less expensive instruction. The increasingly tenuous nature of faculty careers built upon teaching and research will be further exacerbated.

* Increasing resistance to shared governance involving students and faculty on the part of administrators and University trustees (Berkeley and Minnesota come to mind immediately as recent egregious examples). Shared governance may be seen increasingly as inimical to the effective implementation of "bottom line" concepts of University governance, that is, the maximization of income and minimization of expenses. We may expect increasing tensions between the corporate and university cultures that converge most markedly at Board of Trustees meetings. The most striking aspect of the October Board of Trustees meeting was the impression of a very well-run corporate boardroom. While reflecting legitimate concerns of the trustees, whose job it is to see that the University remains solvent, the increasing "corporatization" of the University poses the danger of distorting the very concept of higher education.

* Given the realities of the modern university, faculty involvement in shared governance will not become easier, but will certainly become increasingly vital to the well-being of the institution. The case for shared governance cannot be made by a few isolated voices. The entire faculty as a whole has a responsibility. Judging by the recent attendance at the Oct. 16 plenary University Senate meeting, that message has not reached the majority of us.

* * * Let me take this opportunity to thank Eva Reid Brosius for her many years of devoted work as clerk of the University Senate and to wish her well in her new task of writing the Senate's history. I want also to welcome Fran Czak to her new position as director of the Office of the University Senate, one which I am sure she will approach with the diligence and creativity for which she is so well known. I look forward with pleasure to working with her during the coming months.

Keith McDuffie

President, University Senate

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