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June 26, 1997

Provost applauds FAS strategic plan

The latest Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) strategic plan got a glowing review this week from Provost James Maher.

"With very valuable help from the [school's] Faculty Planning Advisory Committee, you and the FAS associate deans have addressed the programmatic needs and budgetary constraints both insightfully and comprehensively," Maher wrote in a June 24 memo to FAS Dean Peter Koehler. Copies of the memo were sent to FAS departments this week for distribution to the school's faculty, a Provost's office spokesperson said.

Provost Maher called the FAS planning document — known as the Phase IV Plan — "the first comprehensive plan the University has ever had for its core programs." Maher endorsed several of the plan's more controversial goals and processes, including: * Cutting the school's number of full-time, tenured and tenure stream faculty from the current 542 to 505-510.

Maher said the reduction will create a better balance between the number of FAS faculty and funds available to support their scholarly activities.

* Hiring 25 full-time, non-tenure stream faculty, for terms of three years or less, to take on some of the teaching duties currently assigned to tenured/tenure stream faculty. The FAS plan suggested that some departments might prefer appointing full-time lecturers with renewable 3-5 year contracts.

While some professors have interpreted these moves as attacks on tenure, Maher pointed out that other universities "have found that term contracts can allow young Ph.D scholars in some disciplines an opportunity to assemble the teaching dossiers they need to compete for tenure-stream appointments at liberal arts colleges, along with some experience of the challenge of maintaining their scholarly lives in the teaching environment typical of liberal arts colleges.

"Departments which do not find such positions attractive should offer you a constructive alternative which provides the most appropriate kind of non-tenure stream instruction and treats the non-tenure stream instructors like the important colleagues they are," Maher wrote to Koehler.

* Evaluating all FAS graduate programs and reallocating resources from lower to higher priority units.

The April 1995 version of the FAS plan assigned each of the school's departments and programs to one of six categories, ranging from units "of demonstrated excellence" to units targeted for budget cuts and elimination. The Phase IV plan, submitted to the provost two months ago, abolished the lower-ranking categories. It upgraded some previously low-ranked departments and reclassified others under a new, unranked category called "departments in transition." Maher commented: "Our traditional scholarly emphasis on detailed accuracy of analysis and evaluation inclines us to study problems and avoid decisions even to the point where further delay of decision is more damaging than accepting an arbitrary element in their resolution. In addition, our tenure standards are sufficiently high that we are blessed with very good faculty throughout our programs, forcing us to choose between good and better as we make difficult decisions of reallocation.

"All of these features result in an understandable anxiety over the changes which loom as the plan is implemented. I sympathize with that anxiety but hope that all FAS faculty recognize that we must reallocate resources to make as many as possible of our programs very strong, or we will fail to reach our highest aspirations. The reallocation process will proceed and will involve ongoing reflection as to the appropriateness of our decisions and the level of success we are attaining." Maher acknowledged that many people will be skeptical that Pitt will sustain "even the level of support envisioned by the Phase IV plan," given national trends of increasing financial pressure on higher education.

"While I clearly cannot control those national trends," Maher wrote, "I encourage all of FAS to note all that we are doing to position the University of Pittsburgh to sustain our activities and fare well among universities, even if those national trends become more challenging for us." He cited improvements in Pitt student services, campus life and access to technology.

Last November, Dean Koehler alerted Maher and FAS department chairpersons that the school faced a $2.6 million shortfall this year. To balance the budget, FAS departments took a 6 percent cut and the central administration made a $1.4 million one-time contribution.

Maher said "it is essential to realize that the deficit was not typical of the past 10 years, need not distract us for long from the positive goals set forth in the FAS plan and must not be allowed to confuse us as to our true long-range intentions." The provost continued: "The coming year will be a crucial one for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. We are searching for a new dean, and that dean must have the academic perspective needed to lead us in the attainment of our high goals. We must begin strengthening our programs as aggressively as the FY98 budget deficit elimination requirement allows. And we must use the program evaluation procedures outlined in the Phase IV Plan to refine our understanding of our programmatic opportunities to ensure that the new dean of FAS is properly equipped to carry on toward our goals." Dean Koehler called Maher's memo "a very supportive response" and said he hoped FAS faculty will feel encouraged by the provost's assurances of support by the senior administration.

"As I read it, the provost is saying that our planned faculty reductions should be sufficient for the foreseeable future, and not the beginning of further reductions," Koehler said. "Obviously, nobody can give guarantees in this day and age, but he stated that as firmly as he could." Besides replying to the FAS plan, Maher planned to send written responses this week to other Provost Area deans and regional campus presidents, all of whom submitted strategic plans this spring as part of the University's ongoing planning process.

But unlike the FAS plan response, replies to the other plans will go only to the heads of those units. It's up to those deans and campus presidents to disseminate the responses among their faculty, the provost said.

Maher said he decided to distribute his FAS response among all of the school's faculty because the FAS plans have been so widely publicized.

— Bruce Steele

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