Policy Office hopes to improve communication early in the process


The new Policy Office has had a busy but successful inaugural year, said Tom Hitter, assistant vice chancellor for Policy Development and Management.

Now that one policy has officially made its way through the new process, Hitter and his office have been able to see where some potential problems could arise.

The overall reception to the Policy Office has been favorable, Hitter said. So far, the office has pushed three policies through the new policymaking process. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher approved the Pennsylvania Residency Policy last year, while the Non-Discrimination policy and Electronic Information and Technology Accessibility Procedure are still being debated and revised in shared governance.

Also, the office has approved 12 charters in the past year, which call for the formation of a committee to draft a potential policy. Senate committees also are consulted in the charter process.

“The Senate is involved very early on. ... They can weigh in on anything, including the scope of the policy, but they usually provide comments on whether or not the Senate needs to be involved in the review process and who should serve on that committee,” Hitter said.

The number of members in each charter committee depends on the nature of the policy but will be made up of Pitt faculty, staff and students.

After a policy is drafted, it’s placed online on the Pitt policy website for a 28-day public comment period. Then it will move on to other committees for further review until it reaches the chancellor’s desk for approval.

Following the Pennsylvania Residency policy from idea to approval has allowed Hitter and his office to hone in on a few kinks in the new policy process.

Communication lies at the heart of some of those kinks, Hitter said. His office will focus more on being engaged with the Pitt community through promoting policies and charters early on in the process.

In return, the Policy Office asks that Pitt’s various stakeholders in shared governance approach them early on to make sure their concerns are fully considered.

“The stakeholder engagement is critical for this to work,” Hitter said. “They need to be involved before something goes to Faculty Assembly. One thing I’m working on in year two is … we intend to be transparent and inclusive.”

It can be difficult to improve awareness of the policy process and availability of the policies, Hitter added. He plans to address this by refining the charter process since they’re “critical to the success of a policy.”

“I think we had to do at least one all the way through,” Hitter said, adding that he’s hoping his team can “iron out” any hang-ups in the next year.

Before the new Policy Office was created, university-wide policies were addressed through ad-hoc committees in shared governance, said former University Senate President Frank Wilson.

“Policies came under scrutiny when there were issues,” Wilson said. “And we were looking for history and an explanation of any ideas of how to deal with it. And I think when that began to happen, we realized that that’s not a very efficient way to deal with these kinds of questions.”

The new approach to policymaking is handled with great concern and is “more systematic, intentional,” Wilson said.

“The bottom line for me is that this is a legitimate effort to upgrade or to elevate our already strong shared governance process,” Wilson said.

However, even with a new policy process, there will still be disagreements that can slow the process down.

“Don’t get me wrong … like with any kind of shared governance, we have differences that emerge, but it feels like it’s a more appropriate way for us to deal with those differences.

“Some of us have to be willing to make compromises that we didn’t really want to have to. The process itself is good, and I think it’s strengthening the shared governance,” Wilson said.

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


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.