Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 15, 1997

University Senate committee to look into future of tenure at Pitt

Gordon MacLeod said he plans to form a new University Senate committee to study the future of tenure at Pitt and the plight of non-tenure stream faculty here, after he becomes Senate president in July.

Current Senate president Keith McDuffie had pledged to appoint such a committee following a discussion of tenure issues at the May 6 Faculty Assembly meeting. But that was before Senate officer election results were announced.

"I will definitely follow up on Keith's idea because I think this is a very important issue," MacLeod said this week.

Education school professor Mark Ginsburg prompted the Assembly discussion by referring to a proposal in the current Faculty of Arts and Sciences five-year plan to eliminate 37 tenured faculty positions in FAS while creating 25 lower-paid, non-tenure stream positions. Ginsburg said the plan, combined with a trend in the Health Sciences schools away from tenure stream appointments, raises fundamental policy questions: What is the appropriate balance of tenured and non-tenured faculty jobs at Association of American Universities institutions such as Pitt? Should outstanding research be the main criterion for tenure, or should faculty who are primarily excellent teachers also qualify? And who decides these issues? "These issues should not be left to individual departments, schools and deans," Ginsburg argued. Senate groups also should "debate, discuss and help to shape" Pitt tenure policies, he said.

"This is not just a personnel issue or a budget issue, but a fundamental issue of principle for the University," according to Ginsburg.

Dental medicine professor Bob Mundell, who co-chairs the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC), said: "The fact is, a non-tenure stream person learns very early on that if you upset your supervisor, you're history.

"All that's required to drop a non-tenure stream faculty member is benign neglect. You just don't reappoint them" when their annual contracts expire, Mundell said.

Mundell said TAFC recently came across the case of a non-tenure stream faculty member who refused a request from his supervisor to commit research fraud. After the faculty member threatened to report the incident, the supervisor got rid of him simply by not reappointing him the following year.

"If you're a secretary at this University in a continuing position, you have some protections," Mundell noted. "If you're a non-tenure stream faculty member, you do not." TAFC member Doug Metzler said Provost James Maher has emphasized that he does not want to reduce the proportion of tenured faculty here. Rather, the provost told TAFC that it must recognize "that a great deal of teaching is already being done by non-tenured people…and his [Maher's] interest is looking at how that balance may need to be redistributed," said Metzler, a School of Information Sciences faculty member.

Metzler and Mundell said Pitt should protect academic freedom and other rights of non-tenure stream faculty. "What possible benefit is there to the University to allow administrators to act so capriciously, to make decisions based not on merit but on non-academic issues?" Metzler asked.

According to Mundell, non-tenure stream faculty should be analogous to resident aliens who are denied certain rights of U.S. citizens such as voting but who nonetheless are protected by most of the country's laws.

In other Faculty Assembly and Senate Council business this month:

* The committee working on a new, permanent early retirement incentive plan for faculty has hit some snags in recent weeks but is "still alive and well," contrary to rumor, Senate President McDuffie reported.

Faculty and administrative members of the committee have clashed in recent weeks over predicted costs and longevity of the proposed plan, McDuffie said. He said some committee members recently proposed offering only a "window" plan this year, in which faculty could enroll only during a specific period. But other members are insisting that a permanent plan also be offered, in keeping with the recommendations of a 1996 report by the Faculty Retirement Policy Review Committee (the so-called "Ochs report," named for review committee chairperson Jack N. Ochs of economics).

At Senate Council on May 12, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said a permanent faculty early retirement plan must benefit Pitt economically and help meet academic goals such as opening positions for young faculty. Such a plan "is not intended principally to confer additional retirement benefits," he said.

The chancellor also said the plan must be very carefully designed "because when you begin talking about something that is permanent in the retirement benefits area, you are then creating an entitlement that may bind the University for years and years and years to come." Early retirement committee member James Holland, a psychology professor, said faculty members of the committee concurred with Nordenberg's remarks. "The plan must have benefits [for the University] that exceed its costs," Holland said.

* A University-wide committee is seeking input from the Pitt community in drafting a proposed policy on privacy of e-mail and voice-mail.

Committee member Michael Becich said interested faculty, staff and students should consult the committee's World Wide Web site for background information and examples of other universities' policies on e-mail and v-mail privacy. The web site address is: hhtp:// Becich, who also chairs the University Senate's computer usage committee, said the Pitt policy will deal with issues such as the release of University e-/v-mail records in legal cases and Pitt procedures for storing messages. "One of the common misunderstandings is that when you delete an e-mail or v-mail message, it's gone," Becich said. "But in fact, it can exist in backed-up forms on hard copy or in University archives, maybe forever." The e-/v-mail privacy committee hopes to submit its proposed policy to the senior administration by the end of the summer, Becich said.

— Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply