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July 10, 1997


Now that the 1997-98 term for elected representatives of the Faculty Assembly and University Senate has begun, it's time to spell out some of the issues that lie ahead.

TENURE: Most academicians acknowledge that reform of the nation's higher education system is in the offing and examination of tenure is on most universities' agendas. Of all possible changes ahead, the tenure issue needs to be the one most carefully considered. Pitt's Faculty Handbook states that tenure is intended to assure the University that there will be continuity in its experienced faculty and in the functions for which they are responsible. As teaching methods change in an expanding, technologically driven society, preservation of tenure in some appropriate fashion should be given the highest priority.

Tenure, more than any other feature of university life, has contributed to the advancement of knowledge. It is intended to preserve academic freedom, that is, independence of mind and freedom to advance learning despite differences with past contributions to the fund of knowledge. Of importance, tenure provides protection against summary dismissal in a community of scholars. Academia is not the sole domain for scholarly contributions to the overall fund of knowledge outside the university. Indeed, it is a major responsibility for academicians to educate and train individuals for all sectors of society. Some of the best brainpower productivity was developed in the university and is attracted to investor-owned corporations. Therein lies a potential threat to universities, which might have to trade off effective teachers and creative investigators to commercial enterprises if tenure is not safeguarded. In the university setting, questions arise as to who is to set tenure policy. How important is the role of teaching in granting tenure? Who is better prepared to set standards for promotion and preservation of tenure than one's peers? What, if any, are the temporal limits on preservation of tenure? What is the role of the American Association of University Professors in setting standards? Is tenure awarded mainly for scholarly productivity and scientific investigation? To what extent does tenure include service to the university and the community, and in what proportion? These and many other questions will be considered by a special Faculty Assembly committee appointed to examine the issue of tenure. I have asked Mark Ginsburg to chair this committee, which will review all facets of scholarly endeavors involved with tenure. The committee will report its findings in due course.

HEALTH CARE BENEFITS: The existing three-year health insurance contract between the University and Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania and Blue Shield of Pennsylvania will remain in effect until June 30, 1998. Future health insurance arrangements will have to be made during the current term of the University Senate. The Senate's benefits and welfare committee is ably co-chaired by James Holland and Herbert Chesler, with representation from the University's staff, students and administration. Access to the widest possible choice of providers is a clear objective of the faculty and staff. The B&W committee will be guided by a University Senate resolution supporting the comprehensive-deductible health insurance plan as a fundamental option. Preliminary planning for next year's contract by the committee is underway. VOX POPULI: The voice of the Faculty Assembly is somewhat muted by an arbitrary distribution of the three voting blocs at Pitt: the arts and sciences, the health sciences, and the professional schools. Most academic units within these three categories have their own special interests, often different from one another. But the faculty as a whole should have the opportunity to express itself not only with regard to matters of their respective disciplines but also to matters of policy and questions of consistency in University-wide practices. For instance, a threefold higher percentage of tenured faculty members can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences compared to the Health Sciences. Also, widely variable faculty patterns of governance exist in different parts of the University — whether in colleges, schools, departments or regional campuses — with little consistency among the organizations of governing bodies, if they exist at all, within faculty groupings throughout the University. Since all politics are local, it would appear that the faculty could benefit from synergism of deliberations at the University level arising from issues raised in individual academic units. I have invited Gerald Massey to convene the group known as the University's Senate "Old Presidents' Club" to provide their views on reorganizing the Faculty Assembly in order to secure more direct representation from each of the academic units.

OTHER ISSUES: Committee reports will be considered at the July 10 meeting of the extended executive committee of the Faculty Assembly. Each of the chairpersons of the 15 Faculty Assembly committees has been invited to present a summary of last year's activities and issues along with anticipated projects for 1997-98.

Gordon K. MacLeod is president of the University Senate.

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