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September 11, 2008

Senate plenary session to focus on Oakland

Plans are coming together for the University Senate’s fall plenary session, set for Oct. 23 in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.

Titled “Quality of Life in Oakland: Investments in University and Community Partnerships,” the event will feature a marketplace of local community organizations, panel discussions, brief presentations, break-out sessions and an oral summary report, according to Wesley Rohrer, co-chair of the Senate’s community relations committee (CRC), which is organizing the event.

The marketplace of invited community organizations will be held 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The plenary session will run 1-4 p.m.

Rohrer told Faculty Assembly Sept. 2 that Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Provost James Maher, as well as Pittsburgh City Council members Bill Peduto, Bruce Kraus and Tonya Payne, are expected to speak at the plenary session.

Among the local groups expected to be represented are the Community Human Services Corp., Oakland Transportation and Management Association, Oakland Planning and Development Corp., Oakland Business Improvement District, Peoples Oakland, Oakland Community Council and the Oakland Task Force, Rohrer said.

“During the past five to seven years, the CRC has focused on issues associated with defining and examining the practices of community service as one of the three legs of the University’s mission,” Rohrer said. “It has been our feeling that service often gets more lip service than due attention and that there is some confusion or ambiguity about just what constitutes service. Certainly, we agree that it includes service to professional associations, serving on review boards, NIH committees and so on. We’ve taken the view that it also entails service to the immediate community.”

Rohrer said CRC pursued organizing a plenary session partly in response to recent events in Oakland, including city code enforcement crackdowns and complaints from a local activist about the University’s role in ensuring public safety and enhancing the quality of life in Oakland.

“The key questions are: What issues should we be concerned about in the Oakland community that lend themselves to collaborative behavior? What do we need to know about those issues that we can take relevant action, and what should our priorities be?” he said.

Specific problems that will be addressed at the plenary session include: litter and garbage control; property maintenance; housing code violations, including fire safety; personal security; panhandling, and isolated incidents of student behavior that might constitute a public nuisance or threat to safety.

The plenary session also will look at examples of the University working with community partners, such as Pitt’s Community Outreach Partnership Center’s working group on housing, the Keep It Clean Oakland campaign and the Adopt-a-Block program, Rohrer said.

“The hope is that the plenary, among other things, will lead to pointed and actionable recommendations that we can include in our ultimate committee report,” which is expected to be submitted to Faculty Assembly and Senate Council in the spring, Rohrer said.

While the plenary session will be an open forum, “as a committee, we have a candid concern: We really don’t want this to become a whine-and-wail forum, so we want to make it as positive as possible,” Rohrer said. “But we’d like to broaden the audience to include students and representatives of student organizations, because they are a constituency that has a considerable investment in Oakland as the place where they reside, recreate and do their business.”

In other Faculty Assembly reports:

• Senate President John Baker reported that four standing Senate committees have chosen new chairs or co-chairs.

John Lyon of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures will co-chair the admissions and student aid committee with Ray Jones of the Katz Graduate School of Business; Lynn Fitzgerald of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences will chair the anti-discriminatory policies committee; Richard Pratt of the Department of Physics and Astronomy will chair the budget policies committee, and Scott Mark of the School of Pharmacy will co-chair the student affairs committee with Patricia Tuite of the School of Nursing.

• Baker recommended David DeJong of the Department of Economics for appointment to the University planning and budgeting committee, one of two open positions this year. “We are in the process of filling the other appointment,” Baker said.

• Baker asked for faculty volunteers to serve on the University Review Board, the appellate body with jurisdiction over students who face potential dismissal for academic integrity reasons. Five faculty, approved by the University Senate, are needed to fill two-year terms; to date, Paul Munro of the School of Information Sciences and Irene Frieze of the Department of Psychology have agreed to serve, Baker said.

• The Senate library committee is developing a plenary session on academic publishing for the 2009 spring term. The tentative date is March 3.

• Lisa Bernardo, Senate secretary, and Kathy Humphrey, vice provost and dean of students, reported on the new Outside the Classroom Curriculum ( program.

The program is a University-wide initiative that includes a structured series of extracurricular activities and experiences designed to complement undergraduate students’ academic studies. Bernardo said OCC is believed to be the first program of its kind nationally.

(See Aug. 28 University Times.)

• Patricia Beeson, vice provost for graduate and undergraduate studies, reported on the new one-day fall break for students.

On Oct. 13, a Monday selected as midway between the Labor Day and Thanksgiving holidays, Pitt will remain open and staffed but no classes will be held. Monday classes will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 14, and Tuesday classes that week will be canceled.

Factoring in Labor Day and the Thanksgiving recess, the change means that there will be 14 class meeting dates for each weekday in the fall term.

The fall break does not apply to first professional programs’ academic calendars, Beeson noted.

A break also has been included in the fall term 2009 calendar, but marked “tentative,” Beeson pointed out. “The fall break is being done on an experimental basis. We’re going to monitor this, get people’s reactions, look at how many problems or complaints we get and then evaluate it for the future.”

(See July 24 University Times.)

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 2

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