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January 25, 2007


Get involved: The Senate makes a difference

Three of the most frequently asked questions about Pitt’s University Senate are:

1. What is the Senate?

2. What does it do?

3. Does the Senate make a difference in what happens at the University of Pittsburgh?

The first answer is easy: The Senate is Pitt’s official shared governance body. Its mission is to discuss and make recommendations on all issues of University-wide concern to faculty, staff, students and administrators.

The Senate pursues its mission through its three elected officers (president, vice president and secretary); 15 standing committees (each with nine elected and several ex-officio members); 57 elected representatives to Faculty Assembly (at least two from each academic unit), and elected and appointed delegates to Senate Council (representing faculty, staff, students and administrators).

The other two questions can be answered with a few examples of the many tasks the Senate has accomplished in the past six months that will, or could, make a difference in what happens at Pitt.

• The Senate community relations committee has compiled a report on how community service and service learning should be recognized by the University. This report has been forwarded to the provost, and if the committee’s recommendations are adopted, they will have a major impact on how service is recognized in annual job evaluations and promotions at Pitt.

• The Senate has formed a new ad hoc committee for promotion of gender equity, chaired by Professor Irene Frieze. It will provide an ongoing forum for discussion of concerns related to this issue and develop recommendations for enhancing gender equity for faculty, staff and students.

• The Senate has proposed a change in its bylaws to allow Senate elections to be conducted electronically instead of by paper ballot. Once implemented, this will make future Senate elections easier and more efficient.

• The Senate tenure and academic freedom committee has participated in a revision of the University’s Research Integrity Policy. The new policy will be made public in the next few months. Since our Research Integrity Policy can impose sanctions or even loss of job on a faculty member who violates it, it is vital to ensure that the policy is fair and easy to understand.

• The Senate budget policies committee has promoted a public discussion of the impact of recent annual pay raise decisions on Pitt faculty and staff. I have analyzed this issue in my Senate Matters columns as well. It remains to be seen whether this will prove beneficial to faculty and staff, beyond providing a better understanding of the factors involved.

• The most controversial issue facing the Senate thus far this year has been a proposed bylaws change to enlarge the School of Medicine’s elected representation to Faculty Assembly. The medical school has a separate budget, different salary structure and different teaching mission than the rest of the University; it also has more full-time faculty (over 1,900 including clinical and basic sciences) than all of Pitt’s other units combined. After much debate, the bylaws committee will present two options at the Jan. 30 Faculty Assembly meeting: One would allot the medical school six elected representatives; the other, 12 (it currently has three). If you have an opinion on this issue, please contact your elected Faculty Assembly representative before the meeting.

Clearly I believe the University Senate can make a difference in what happens at Pitt, and that it is worth participating in. I encourage you to get involved in the Senate, too. The Senate elections committee currently is accepting nominations for Senate officers, open Faculty Assembly seats and open Senate committee seats for the April 2007 Senate elections.

If you would like to run for one of these open positions, please email Senate director Lori Molinaro at to indicate your interest. In order to have a voice in what happens at Pitt, you need to participate in its shared governance structures. I can assure you it is well worthwhile.

John J. Baker is president of the University Senate.

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