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April 3, 1997

FAS plans to reduce number of faculty, increase enrollment

In an effort to improve its academic programs and get its finances in order, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is proposing to make the following changes, among others, during the next five years: * Reduce the school's number of full-time, tenured and tenure-stream faculty from the current 542 to 505.

According to the long-range plan that FAS submitted to the Provost's office last week, the faculty reduction would free up funds to support professional activities of current faculty. It also would bring FAS hiring commitments into balance with the school's budget.

"My nightmare has always been that all of the faculty members to whom we have contractual commitments would actually be here in any given year," FAS Dean Peter Koehler said. "I couldn't pay them. We have survived from year to year by the fact that we have unfilled positions, faculty who take leaves without pay, faculty who charge part of their salaries to research grants, and so forth." Once FAS eliminates that gap, any unused salary funds will be made available to department chairpersons for discretionary purposes.

"Currently, every time a computer or slide projector or whatever breaks down, the chairs have to haggle with my office for funds to cover that kind of thing," Koehler said. "That's because the chairs have no discretionary money to speak of. That would change under this plan." * Hire 25 full-time, non-tenure stream faculty to take on some of the teaching duties currently assigned to tenured/tenure stream faculty.

The new faculty would be chosen for their teaching abilities and would not be expected to do research. Toward this end, the FAS plan proposes the creation of full-time teaching post-doctoral positions, to be filled by new Ph.D.s who want to gain teaching experience to enhance their chances of finding faculty jobs. The post-docs would be hired for terms of three years or less. At least some of them would be from Pitt, thus providing early career opportunities for newly minted Ph.D.s here.

"Another alternative that may be more suitable for some disciplines will be to appoint full-time lecturers (or senior lecturers) with renewable 3-5 year contracts after they have proven themselves," the plan states.

The plan does not mention the future status of part-time faculty in FAS.

* Increase undergraduate enrollment to 9,200 full-time-equivalent students — a level that FAS maintained during the early 1990s before falling short of that target during the last three years. FAS's fall 1996 enrollment was 8,745 FTEs.

As part of a parallel effort to simplify and refocus the arts and sciences undergraduate curriculum, FAS will pay more attention to the needs of freshmen. "In addition to continuing and possibly expanding Freshman Studies, we are going to look for ways to improve student learning in the large introductory courses, such as tailoring different sections of such courses to groups of students with different backgrounds and/or needs," the plan states.

FAS also will create more internships for undergrads and opportunities for them to participate in Pitt research projects, according to the plan.

* Reduce the number of FAS teaching assistant, teaching fellow and graduate student assistant positions by 70 (about 10 percent of the current number).

Some of the TA-TF-GSA funds would be used to create 20 competitive graduate fellowships without teaching responsibilities.

* Increase collaboration among FAS departments and between FAS and other Pitt professional schools and Carnegie Mellon University "whenever common interests exist in order to use the local faculty resources to fullest advantage." "The reduction in the overall size of the tenured/tenure stream research-active faculty will result in a need to reevaluate the range of graduate (especially doctoral) programs that can be maintained at levels consistent with national prominence," the plan states. "While some doctoral programs will probably need to be phased out or consolidated, virtually all programs will need to focus on those subareas of the disciplines in which the University of Pittsburgh can offer a unique or distinctive advantage to students." * Increase minority representation among FAS graduate students (from the current 8 percent to 10 percent) and tenured/tenure stream faculty (from the current 11 percent to 15 percent), while increasing the percentage of FAS master's and doctoral degrees awarded to minority students.

Faculty reductions will be made during the next two years. Cuts in TA-TF-GSA positions will occur over five years. The plan does not specify the departments where cuts and increases will be made, only that such decisions will come through a collegial process involving input from FAS faculty, department chairs and deans.

"I'm sure that some faculty and department chairs expected this plan to have a lot more specific actions in it," Dean Koehler said. "I think they realize that this postpones some tough decisions." "We didn't see our mandate as developing a detailed blueprint for the future of FAS at this time," said political science professor Alberta Sbragia, who served on an ad hoc FAS faculty committee that wrote the plan in collaboration with Koehler and his four associate deans.

"The provost asked for a broad strategic plan, and that's what we've provided," Sbragia said.

Like the other Provost area schools and regional campuses, FAS was asked to submit an updated five-year plan answering three questions: How would the school use its current budget to build a new and improved school? How close can the school come to achieving that status by reallocating 5 percent of its budget over the next five years? What must the school change to find the 5 percent reallocation needed to meet its goals? Provost James Maher and his staff held a day-long retreat March 31 at the Allegheny Observatory to begin reviewing the school and campus plans. Maher has said he will not comment publicly on the plans until mid-May, after he has sent his detailed, written responses to the deans and campus presidents.

But even before its release, the FAS plan had sparked more controversy than the other units' plans combined.

The reasons for this include an FAS budget crisis this year, which necessitated 6 percent cuts in each of the school's departments and a $1.4 million bailout by the central administration; Provost Maher's public criticisms of what he called FAS's lack of creativity in planning; and delays in drafting the plan. FAS was the last Provost area school to submit its plan, three weeks after the March 1 deadline.

Most significantly, the new plan marks the latest phase in a planning process that has been worrying and mystifying some FAS departments for the last two years.

The FAS plan of April 1995 assigned each of the school's departments and programs to one of six categories. It rated eight FAS units as being of "demonstrated excellence" (category 1), seven as "on the verge of excellence" (category 2), 13 as representing "quality core" areas (category 3), six as needing reviews of their graduate programs (category 4), four as candidates for budget cuts (category 5), and three as units to be eliminated (category 6).

Some FAS personnel, especially those in category 4 and 5 departments, criticized the ranking criteria as vague and the system itself as stigmatizing. The new plan abolishes categories 4 and 5 and reclassifies those departments under a new, unranked category called "departments in transition." "Departments placed into this new category either have recently instituted major programmatic changes or need to institute major programmatic changes in response to external circumstances, and they need some time to demonstrate that such changes are having the intended effects," the plan explains.

"I think the new plan, overall, is a positive, encouraging and well-reasoned one. Eliminating categories 4 and 5 is a wonderful step forward," said W. Stephen Coleman, chairperson of theatre arts, one of the former category 5 departments. (The others were geology and planetary sciences, religious studies and sociology.) "Essentially, we're no longer second-class citizens and we're not looking down the barrel of the executioner's gun anymore," Coleman said. "But at the same time, it's understood that departments like ours are charged with pursuing the planning and re-evaluating that we've been doing." Six of the seven departments formerly in category 4 were upgraded to higher rankings: Hispanic languages and literatures (now a category 2 department), East Asian languages and literatures, French and Italian languages and literatures, Germanic languages and literatures, linguistics and Slavic languages and literatures (all category 3 departments now). The exception was the classics department, which is now rated "in transition." Classics faculty met yesterday, April 2, to discuss the new FAS plan. "It was a positive meeting, although all of us, of course, are disappointed by this new classification," said classics chairperson Mary Louise Gill.

She described her department as productive and cost-effective, and suggested that "a flaw in communications" may have contributed to the unit's failure to be promoted to category 2 or 3.

In making its presentation to the FAS faculty advisory committee, Gill said, classics essentially described its current activities rather than outlining a plan for change, as requested. "We can present that [such a plan]," Gill said, adding that she will continue to discuss the department's status with classics faculty and the FAS deans in coming weeks.

Of the three original category 6 units, one — the Division of Communication Science and Disorders — was transferred from the FAS communication department to the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences last July. Another, the crystallography department, will be phased out of existence by fall 1997. The third unit, the anthropology department's Center for Cultural Resource Management, will no longer receive FAS funding by fiscal year 1999-2000.

According to Sbragia of the faculty advisory committee, FAS planners considered scrapping the category system because it often relies on qualitative data and is inconsistent in its judgments.

But ultimately, she said, the committee decided to maintain the system because it has rewarded the hard work and accomplishments of departments and programs, identified weaknesses that have since been addressed, and signaled to lesser-ranked units what it takes to be recognized for excellence.

"The downside to the use of categories is the worry that highly ranked departments and programs may become complacent," the plan states. "There is also the fear among departments and programs that are not highly ranked that they will always find themselves at the end of the queue for scarce resources." However, according to the plan, future resource allocations will be based on a unit demonstrating that such allocations will further FAS goals — regardless of the unit's category.

— Bruce Steele

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