Departing Senate officers reflect on service


Two longtime members of Faculty Assembly are stepping down from their roles this year following the latest round of Senate officer elections.

Secretary Cindy Tananis and Vice President Robin Kear will be leaving their positions on June 1. Kear’s three-year term ended, while Tananis plans to retire next spring.

Since 2010, Kear has been involved with Faculty Assembly in various capacities. She started off as an assembly member representing the University Library System. Tananis has worked in Faculty Assembly and the University Senate for roughly nine years.

The University Times talked to them about their time in shared governance and their plans for afterward. The conversations have been edited for length and clarity.

Robin Kear

How’s the experience in shared governance been for you over these years?

After I got elected, I did some interviewing of people who served in the vice president position before so I could learn what the expectations were. And I didn’t know what to expect. But I just wanted to contribute to what makes the University of Pittsburgh work.

The experience has been very interesting. I have really enjoyed working with the officers that I’ve been with, because I think your experiences are sometimes flavored by the officers that you have, the rapport that you have and what kind of relationships you have among officers. I’ve been lucky that the officers I work with have been great, and we really do collaborate and talk about things together.

We talk about issues amongst ourselves, but also things to bring forward to senior administration. I have really enjoyed that. And I have seen many different kinds of leadership styles — especially in the last three years — among senior administration, the committee chairs and among the officers.

Why have you participated in shared governance this long?

I think that having a voice in the way the University runs is very important for faculty. The way that Pitt’s Senate Council and assembly are run is very unique among universities. When I first joined, I wanted to be involved as a librarian and as a member of the assembly. Then I saw that shared governance does actually work. It can be very frustratingly slow to change things at the University. But we hold really an important voice in reminding administration of things that are important to faculty, and that things they might not see right away.

Just because of the nature of where we are in the system and University, we have very broad networks. And that’s a benefit that I’ve seen from being involved is that my network has greatly expanded. We each hear different things that are going on or different concerns. Then, if we’re hearing the same thing from the School of Public Health, or we’re hearing something similar from the Dietrich School, for example, we can talk about it with the administration.

What’s been one of your most significant accomplishments during your time in shared governance?

The first thing I’m most proud of is that we kept the University Times going. When I first came on as vice president three years ago, there was a senior vice chancellor for communication, who is no longer there. But she really saw a different vision for the University Times that coincided with Nancy Brown retiring as editor.

The vision was to pull it into marketing and communication, which, as an information professional, I saw inherent conflicts in the nature of the type of information that would come out — as opposed to something that is more independently operating and independently thinking about things that are going on at the University, not from a marketing or PR standpoint.

We, as officers, really saw the value in keeping it as it was, and we worked very hard on that. We resurrected an old committee, the (University Times) Oversight Committee, that had been dormant for a very long time. That was something we brought up frequently over those first two years that I was vice president.

It’s a unique thing among universities, and we felt that it was very important to hold onto that. Because it just plays such an important role in shared governance too. I see the analogy to the fourth pillar of democracy. I see it as a mini fourth pillar of what goes on at the University.

Are there things you wish you could’ve done differently during your time in shared governance?

We think everybody should be involved with the Senate. Obviously, that’s not possible for everybody. But we have always tried to push more involvement among faculty by writing columns in Senate Matters, by reaching out to networks and trying to get people involved. I think that kind of work will be continuous as long the Senate is going on. You just have to keep asking people to serve and reminding people of the importance of what the Senate can do.

What are some of your plans after your time with shared governance ends? Do you think you’ll be involved again at a later point?

I think I do need a break. And there should be a rotating set of officers. There should be different perspectives coming into the officer group all the time.

I think there are some projects I want to do here in the library, put more time into. But yes, I do want to stay involved, because I think that once you’re an officer, you have a different perspective on just the University as a whole from your experience. That, I think is valuable. So, I wouldn’t want that to go to waste.

What are some recommendations you have for the person who’s take your role next, and some of the things you’ve learned during your time here?

Establish a good rapport with your president right away. Try to make it known that you’re available for discussions. Also, read the handbook, read the bylaws. When you first start, think about the role and do some of your own interviewing. I think that was very helpful.

But then on the other end, it took me about a year to get settled into the role. Our elections are one year at a time, which sometimes feel too short. And you just really need to keep talking about what’s important to you and to faculty.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add? Anything else you’ve been reflecting on?

My favorite thing is graduation. So as officers were invited to the platform in the Petersen Events Center.

Graduations are just wonderful. It reminds you of why you’re here. And the goal that we’re all working for is to educate our young people in the best way possible. And to see the families and the students so excited to graduate, that’s really a special thing.

The Faculty Senate president sort of opens and closes it. But my first year, Frank Wilson wasn’t able to do it. So, I had to do it. That was a little nerve wracking because there are about 10,000 people there for the undergraduate ceremony. That’s a lot of people. But I think I did OK. That’s really one of my favorite parts.

Cindy Tananis

What made you decide to stay so long with the Faculty Assembly and eventually, Senate Council.

I believe in faculty governance. The University is a very unique and special environment, where it was founded by faculty to produce knowledge and to engage in academic endeavors. So faculty need to be very involved in governance.

Administrators are hired to help run the University, but the heart of the University is and always has been faculty. I believe very strongly in that, and that requires people to stand up and take responsibility.

Why now, are you choosing to take a step back from shared governance?

I’m going to be 62 in September, so I’m taking early retirement. I’m actually going to be retiring next April. This is sort of a year of transition for me into retirement.

And I’m doing that not because I want to leave the University or because I’m ill or anything like that. But rather, I think there’s a life to be led. And part of that life was being at the University and contributing in that way. And part of my life is also contributing to my family and in those areas, too. I’m looking forward to another chapter for life where I can do a lot of traveling.

And during your time with the Faculty Assembly and Senate Council, what’s an achievement that you’re proud of most?

I think early on, I started working on the ad hoc committee for non-tenure-stream issues (It started in 2015.) And that was at a time when people were not very aware of how many non-tenure-stream faculty colleagues were at the University, and the breadth and depth of the work that they do.

The assumption at that time was that non-tenure-stream meant “adjunct,” and adjunct meant somehow separate from the faculty or just sort of an itinerant worker. For many non-tenure-stream, most non-tenure-stream faculty, that isn’t the case. They are full-time, committed members of the faculty and of the community that have been involved in many different endeavors across the campuses.

That became an issue. That was when we had the ad hoc committee. We came to see how uneven treatment was of non-tenure-stream faculty, or consideration of non-tenure-stream faculty was across all of the schools, units, departments and across the campuses. And there was a lot of inequity going on.

It sounds like it’s still very much a work in progress.

Well, what happens is, you’re dealing with different generations of faculty members and administrators. Originally, when some of these issues started around non-tenure stream, faculty who had been around for a longer period of time had been socialized heavily in a tenure-stream environment.

Non-tenure-stream seemed very unusual or out of the ordinary for them. It really wasn’t part of the University culture. Now, it is very much part of the University culture, yet younger faculty who are in tenure-stream positions are still held to very high standards. It’s a very rigorous and draining processes to get tenure. What can happen is you can start to set up a kind of caste system where, “I had to go through tenure stream and you didn’t, and therefore, you must be less than or somehow less important than I am.”

What are some things that you wish would have worked out better while you were involved shared governance?

Higher education environments typically tend not to move quickly in terms of decisions and actions. The non-tenure -stream issues have not moved nearly as expeditiously as we had hoped. There are still inequities, there are pockets of inequities all over the University and those need to be addressed. The pace of change is sometimes frustrating.

On the other hand, I have to say I’m a very strong supporter of the overall response from this administration. We’re very lucky to have a chancellor and a provost and senior administration who believe very strongly in a shared governance model. And that’s not necessarily the case across Universities across the country. I think Pitt is very fortunate to have that.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your retirement plans or plans after retirement?

Well, my wife (Nancy Mantz) retired a year ago, which also tends to make retirement that much more enticing. She was a nurse practitioner at Pitt and UPMC for a long time. We were very lucky to get a 25-foot motorhome about two years ago. We’ve always had a dream about being able to tour the country, especially, the national parks. That’s what our hope is in the next number of years, to be able to travel along all over the country. We’re hopeful that the other thing that we can do is during the winter months to be able to go scuba diving more.

Do you have any recommendations for the next person to take your role now that they’ve been elected?

I think I have the same recommendation for all faculty, but especially the officers. And that is faculty can have a lot of influence if you step up to be heard as an active part of faculty governance. I’ve always lived by the credo that if you’re going to critique something, then you ought to stand up and put effort toward changing it.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905