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February 6, 1997

Provost urges FAS to take planning seriously

It's time for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to get serious about developing a creative, long-range plan for improving itself, Provost James Maher said this week.

Any such plan must come from FAS itself; the school shouldn't look to Pitt's central administration for answers, according to Maher, who said he is refusing to intervene in the planning process at this point.

"The problem is, it's been three years now that FAS has been working on a [long-range academic] plan, and it's just not happening," the provost said. "We should not be letting this drag on. There's a real danger that there's so much defensive behavior going on [among FAS faculty] that nothing will come of this if we don't keep pushing." The Provost's office has asked FAS and the other non-Health Sciences schools to submit long-range plans by March 1. Among the questions schools have been asked to address are the following: * What would the school do if it had its current budget to start a brand new school? * How close can the school come to achieving its goals by reallocating 5 percent of its budget each year over the next 10 years, from lower priority units to higher priority ones? * What must the school cut in order to accomplish its goals? Thanks largely to FAS's well-publicized budget crisis this year — which necessitated 6 percent cuts in each department and a $1.4 million bailout by the central administration — the school's planning process has generated excessive fear and loathing within FAS. According to Maher, those feelings are understandable but unjustified.

"It's important to keep in mind that we are not talking about some nefarious bunch of cuts," he said. "We are talking about serious planning to assure the future of the University. I'm asking for a plan that recommends how to make the best possible FAS within the existing budget." Unless FAS takes advantage of this opportunity to recreate itself, the school will continue to suffer the "slow strangulation" that is sapping academic quality and destroying faculty morale, according to Maher, who has served on the Pitt physics faculty since 1970.

For years, FAS personnel complained that Pitt's administration was underfunding the school. "But in the last 10 years, the FAS budget has gone up very significantly," Maher argued. "It's up 30 percent after you correct for inflation, or more like 80 percent before inflation. Meanwhile, the FAS enrollment is down 5 percent during that time, and a significant number of extra faculty were hired" — an increase from about 495 to 555 tenure-stream faculty.

"So many extra faculty were hired," Maher said, "that most of the individual faculty members in FAS are just as frustrated about the availability of resources as they were 10 years ago." In reallocating 5 percent of its budget this year, FAS, like most other schools, has two options, Maher said. "One is a very creative way, in which the faculty find ways to work together on common efforts that might cross departmental boundaries but would provide some of our smaller, but high quality departments with the critical mass of resources that they need.

"The alternative is to be defensive and not consider crossing departmental boundaries, in which case finding the 5 percent would, in my opinion, be a lot more painful." That's as far as the provost would go in advising FAS on its long-range plan. During a series of meetings recently with FAS faculty — and an interview this week — Maher said he is refusing to interfere in the school's planning process, despite requests from some professors that he step in to referee disputes over FAS priorities.

Emphasizing his words by repeatedly rapping his palm on the top of his office conference table, Maher expressed frustration with FAS's reluctance to chart its own course. "We must make these [FAS] programs as good as they can be, but I don't want to usurp the traditional faculty mechanism. What I'm asking for is a meaningful plan from the FAS faculty themselves, at which point I will get back to FAS very quickly with meaningful comments.

"What I'm hearing from them instead is that they would like me to tell them what to do — at which point I think we would very quickly hear that I was violating the tradition of faculty governance.

"I understand that a lot of the faculty are very anxious that we make good decisions and ensure the future of our programs," Maher continued. "And there are some very good faculty who are very worried that it won't be done right. There is legitimate anxiety, and I have a lot of sympathy for those people." But Maher dismissed the concerns expressed by some faculty critics of FAS Dean Peter Koehler about Koehler's role as the ultimate arbiter of the school's long-range plan. "Last summer, Dean Koehler recruited three very respected faculty members [David Brumble, Kathleen DeWalt and Frank Giarratani] as associate deans," Maher noted. "And now, in preparing this plan, he has recruited six very respected faculty members to form a committee to help formulate the plan. The dean is relying very, very heavily on the judgment of those nine faculty members to develop a positive, forward-looking plan to be presented first to the FAS planning and budgeting committee and then eventually to me." Members of the FAS faculty advisory committee include John Cooper, chemistry; Seymour Drescher, history, David Gauthier, philosophy, Katheryn Linduff, history of art and architecture; Stephen Manuck, psychology; and Alberta Sbragia, political science.

— Bruce Steele

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