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February 22, 2007


Shared governance shared more equally

Faculty Assembly and Senate Council recently approved increasing the number of its School of Medicine (SOM) representatives from three to nine in an effort to correct a perceived inequality in representation. After a 45-day waiting period for comments from the general faculty, this measure will become policy. The change comes after a year of deliberation by the Senate’s bylaws and procedures committee, deliberation that taught us a lot about the faculty’s institutional perception of what constitutes faculty and how they want to be perceived as academicians.

Pitt’s SOM faculty has grown rapidly in recent years: As of Jan. 1, there were 1,937 full-time academic faculty, almost twice the number of two decades ago. During the Senate election last year, 1,803 full-time SOM faculty were eligible to vote, comprising 45 percent of the total ballots distributed. When added to the other Health Sciences schools and library system, that number swelled to 2,310 faculty (57.8 percent), compared to Arts and Sciences (A&S) with 668 faculty (16.7 percent), the professional schools and University Library System with 522 faculty (13.1 percent) and the regional campuses with 321 faculty (8 percent). The remaining 4.5 percent are retired faculty and others. Each of the SOM’s three representatives represented over 600 faculty; each of the other 54 representatives represented only 55 or fewer faculty.

When presented with these data, Faculty Assembly requested clarification of what it meant to be a faculty member in the SOM. Was their academic mission and activity similar to that of other University faculty? Arts and Sciences has 10,061 undergraduates and 1,582 graduate students, whereas the SOM has no undergraduates, 949 graduate students and many more post-graduate students.

There is a fundamental perception that SOM faculty are in some ways “substantially different” from faculty in other schools. The majority of SOM faculty are in the non-tenure stream and many SOM faculty are paid by other entities such as the University of Pittsburgh Physicians and the Veterans Administration. SOM faculty often are perceived as being primarily physicians who spend relatively little time in the traditional manner of university faculty.

Steven Kanter, SOM vice dean for faculty affairs, addressed these issues at Faculty Assembly’s December meeting. He reported that those faculty whose titles had a “clinical” prefix and whose primary role in medical education was bedside teaching during their practice of patient care were not included in the total number of SOM faculty reported to the Senate. A SOM faculty member must devote a minimum of 20 percent of his or her time to SOM activities (e.g. education, research). Furthermore, even when full-time SOM faculty are practicing medicine, the majority of that time is spent teaching and training medical students and/or post-graduate clinical trainees. Dr. Kanter emphasized that all full-time SOM faculty have teaching activities and are engaged in other scholarly activities, as evidenced by the large number of scholarly publications and federal funding for scientific research SOM faculty generate.

As part of the year-long consideration of appropriate Senate representation for SOM faculty, some Senate bylaws and procedures committee members argued that A&S was the “soul” of the University, carried the “lion’s share” of undergraduate education and in general reflected the academic values that the University Senate wished to sustain. Increased SOM representation would alter the nature of Faculty Assembly, some argued. However, it was pointed out that even increasing SOM representation from three to 12 members would have little impact on Faculty Assembly’s composition, while markedly increasing SOM faculty involvement in University governance. The committee agreed and approved two proposals, recommending a SOM representative increase to either six or 12. Faculty Assembly agreed to “split the difference” and give the SOM nine representatives.

This process has been very instructive. It has helped to educate the non-Health Sciences faculty about the nature of the academic affairs of SOM faculty and their diversity. It has underscored the concept that we are a University and not a college. We are made up of many schools with markedly different forms and shapes of teaching roles, responsibilities and goals. Thus, we should not discriminate against one school or another but celebrate these differences as part of the rich fabric that makes its academic diversity our strength. And finally, by embracing an increased SOM faculty role in the Faculty Assembly, we are saying that all Pitt faculty are valued members of our University and their voices can and should be heard in shared governance.


Thomas C. Smitherman is chair of the Senate’s bylaws and procedures committee. Michael R. Pinsky is vice president of the University Senate. Both are faculty members in the School of Medicine.

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