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December 7, 2006

Senate committee: include community service in tenure decisions

The University Senate community relations committee (CRC) wants community service to be considered in faculty tenure and promotion decisions.

The committee is recommending that the Provost’s office approve guidelines that would permit individual departments to incorporate public service and service-learning into faculty tenure and promotion decisions. The guidelines also are designed to assist academic units in assessing their teaching and research missions as they relate to public and community service.

At this week’s Senate Council meeting, CRC member Tracy Soska summarized a report on “Considerations and Recommendations for Community Service and Service-Learning at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Soska, who chaired the ad hoc community engagement subcommittee that prepared the report, said the subcommittee had input from faculty, students and administrators. He noted the Senate’s tenure and academic freedom and educational policies committees had endorsed the community relations committee’s recommendations and that those recommendations had been approved unanimously at the Nov. 28 Faculty Assembly meeting.

“It’s important to remember that these are guidelines. The real decisions for recognizing, defining and rewarding service of this kind still reside in the academic units,” Soska said. “However, the purpose of the report and its recommendations are to help shape and guide that process.”

The subcommittee reviewed the University’s mission statement, national benchmarks and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s newly established community engagement elective classification, among sources of information.

“While the idea of service is very clearly addressed in the University’s mission statement, we felt that it is not well-defined at the faculty level,” Soska said. “The subcommittee agreed that service should encompass three dimensions: service to the academy, service to the profession or discipline and public service to the community.”

Service to the academy is defined to include such things as membership on the University Senate and other committees at the departmental and unit levels. Likewise, service to the profession or discipline also is a well-understood concept, he said.

“But service to the community we felt did not have a good working definition or guidelines for what we term public service,” Soska said.

The subcommittee agreed that public service in this context should not include volunteerism, which, although an indication of good citizenship, does not rise to the level of academic rigor that would deserve recognition by the institution.

“For service to merit recognition, it should also generate knowledge, and this knowledge should be generalizable, shared and sustainable to make sure that our public service is truly connected to the teaching and research missions,” Soska maintained.

Public service should include interaction with an external community, defined broadly, Soska said, with the understanding that certain disciplines have built-in relationships with outside communities, such as the business community, the faith-based community, the African-American community or the foundation community.

“We also concluded that service to the community should respond to community-identified needs and should be co-created with the community,” Soska said. “The University has had a reputation at various times of ‘parachuting’ into a neighborhood, doing its work and then stepping out. The recommendation is that we should have the community involved with us,” he said.

“More importantly, we need to have tangible, measurable outcomes that can be evaluated and documented through a process of assessment and that could also provide some products of research or outreach that show the work that came from our presence,” he said. “Also that service work should generate knowledge and that knowledge should be shared.”

Soska said that faculty also need to be able to articulate how community engagement or public service respects the assets, values and dignity of a community, and builds or enhances the capacity of the community.

“When we engage in service we need to leave something stronger behind us and be able to show that this work is sustainable and can be carried on by the community or by the community working with the University,” he said.

Other recommendations of the report include:

• Educating faculty and students in the process of being co-learners with the communities;

• Demonstrating that co-learning among University and community partners is sustainable in the field as well as in the classroom;

• Providing a record of what knowledge was co-generated;

• Showing how the curriculum was applied in the field;

• Measuring what learning was internalized, and

• Demonstrating how service is related to curricular activity in the classroom.

“This is the academic rigor we owe to this type of work that deserves faculty recognition,” Soska said.

Service-learning also may incorporate a research component, Soska said. This type of work could advance research as an integral component of the provided service and promote faculty and student scholarship within the discipline or profession, as well as across disciplines and professions. Further, it could enhance professional development and leadership of those engaged in the learning, he added.

“Lastly, we looked at the fact that this University has already been recognized as an engaged institution, in terms of seeing the community as our campus, making the connection that a strong city needs a strong University and vice versa, the work of our Community Outreach Partnership Center and other [accolades],” Soska said. “And the committee is now asking the University to pursue the Carnegie Foundation’s new elective community engagement classification as an opportunity to further distinguish the institution for academic excellence in community engagement and service-learning.”

Following Soska’s report, Senate President John Baker said that the guidelines and recommendations will be passed on to the Provost’s office for review.

In other Senate Council developments:

• Baker announced the creation of an ad hoc committee for the promotion of gender equity at Pitt. (See related Senate Matters column this issue.)

“As you probably know, the American Association of University Professors recently released a report on faculty gender inequity at U.S. universities,” Baker said. (See Nov. 9 University Times.)

“The executive committee of the Senate believes that Pitt’s administration should continue to promote gender equity at the University,” Baker continued. “The issues run across more than one standing Senate committee, so we agreed to form an ad hoc committee to work with the Pitt administration to promote gender equity in regard to the four indicators described in the AAUP report. I want to emphasize that the purpose of the committee is to work with the administration.”

The ad hoc committee will be chaired by Irene Hanson Frieze, the Senate’s immediate past president, who is expected to prepare a mission statement by the Jan. 31 Faculty Assembly. Faculty interested in serving should contact Frieze at, Baker said.

Frieze said, “I’m very happy to have this committee being set up. I see this committee as concerned not just with faculty but also with staff and student issues.”

• Baker reported that John Wiley & Sons have made an offer to acquire Blackwell Publishing for more than $1 billion.

This affects Pitt’s library system for two reasons, he said. “One, the combined company will control more than 1,200 titles, many of them scholarly society journals and, two, libraries often experience substantial price increases following mergers.”

This acquisition has to be approved by the Department of Justice, Baker said.

“The Information Access Alliance, which represents many library associations, has petitioned the Department of Justice to request more information” before approving the merger, he said. “They are soliciting help from all member libraries. The Senate library committee is planning to write a response to request an extended review. If anyone would like to participate, please contact Adam Shear or Rosemary Hoffman, co-chairs of the library committee.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 8

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