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February 20, 1997

Faculty, staff, students expected to retain trustees' committee membership, but without vote

Faculty, staff and students could continue to attend meetings of Board of Trustees' committees as "representatives" — but no longer as voting members — under a proposal that trustees are scheduled to consider at this morning's board meeting.

The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. in the William Pitt Union's Assembly Room.

If the board approves the plan, faculty, staff and students would still participate in committee discussions and attend informational meetings closed to the public. But they would no longer vote or attend members-only "executive sessions." Executive sessions may only be held to discuss a limited number of sensitive issues such as compensation for individual Pitt employees, major property purchases, fiscal audits, and litigation involving the University, said Robert Dunkelman, secretary to the board.

And most of those discussions take place at meetings of the four trustees' committees from which faculty, staff and students currently are barred: the compensation, conflict of interest, executive and nominating committees, Dunkelman said.

The 11 other trustees' committees have included faculty, staff and student members since 1992, when Board of Trustees leaders expanded membership on the committees in response to complaints that the board was secretive and lacked input from University constituencies other than the administration.

But a comprehensive report on Pitt operations, released in January 1996 by a group led by education consultant James Fisher, included a recommendation that faculty, staff and students be removed from board committees. The Fisher Report 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 freely discuss sensitive issues at committee meetings when faculty, staff and students were present.

At its June 20 meeting, the Board of Trustees appointed a two-member committee to study alternative ways that students and employees could have input on board committees without being voting members. The two trustees, Jeffrey S. Blum and E. Jeanne Gleason, interviewed dozens of faculty, staff, students and fellow trustees during the summer and fall. They are scheduled to report their findings at today's meeting prior to introducing a resolution that students and employees remain as non-voting representatives.

That plan represents a compromise between so-called "hard-line" trustees who wanted students and employees removed from the committees entirely, and other trustees and University community members who preferred the status quo.

Of the various faculty, staff and student groups affected by the plan, only the University Senate received a copy of it prior to today's meeting — only because the Senate routinely gets advance copies of board materials, Dunkelman.

Senate President Keith McDuffie called the plan "an acceptable compromise." "The original plan this summer was to kick us off the committees altogether," McDuffie noted. "I can live with this new proposal because my primary point all along has been that the purpose of having these three constituencies — faculty, staff and students — on the committees has been to provide background information, opinions and in general to communicate with the trustees. And those lines of communication would remain open under this new plan.

"They [trustees] are busy people," McDuffie continued, "and they may not otherwise have the time or the opportunity to get the input they need from the University community in order to make informed decisions." McDuffie called the loss of voting rights "a secondary concern. Even with the vote, the faculty, staff and student members combined don't represent a large enough group to control the outcome of committee votes. The way things currently are set up, our votes can make somewhat of a difference. But if the trustees don't go along with us, there's not much we can accomplish." Except for a few committees such as property and facilities, most trustees committees can't take action on their own anyway. Instead, they make recommendations to the full board, McDuffie said.

Brian Ulery, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said that he, too, could live with a plan that retained students and employees as representatives — albeit non-voting ones — on the board committees.

"I would have no real problem with a plan like that," Ulery said.

As for voting rights, Ulery said: "As it is, we're already outnumbered on the committees. This change wouldn't make much difference, practically speaking." Student Government Board President Justin DalMolin said that he and other SGB leaders would continue lobbying up until today's board meeting for the right to have one non-CGS (College of General Studies) undergraduate on each of the trustees' 11 standing committees. Such student representatives need not be voting committee members, DalMolin said.

Currently, each committee includes one undergrad or graduate student who represents three constituencies, in effect: graduate students, CGS evening students, and non-CGS undergrads.

DalMolin said SGB will present the board with petitions and cards calling for: * The appointment of a non-CGS undergrad representative to all 11 standing committees.

* Establishment of an ad hoc committee "that will include student, faculty and staff leaders to evaluate the efficiency of our shared governance structure to conclusively reach an arrangement where all constituencies feel adequately represented." More than 500 Pitt students have signed the petitions and cards, according to DalMolin.

Staff Association Council President Brian Hart said he would not comment until he had read the board proposal.

* * * Also at today's board meeting, trustees were scheduled to hear an update on affirmative action and a report by Provost James Maher on undergraduate education.

Preceding the full board meeting, the compensation committee was scheduled to hold an 8:10 a.m. public meeting in the William Pitt Union Ballroom to approve salaries and fringe benefits for Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement Carol Carter and Assistant Chancellor Jerome Cochran.

— Bruce Steele

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