Policy office’s first priority is a policy on policies


A policy on policies might sound a bit Orwellian, but the head of Pitt’s newest administrative office hopes the work of his group will lead to greater transparency and a smoother, more efficient process for developing policies.

Currently, there isn’t any real management of University policies, according to Tom Hitter, who came to Pitt last year as the assistant vice chancellor for Policy Development and Management with a goal of clarifying and centralizing the process. The new policy office falls under Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer, on the Pitt organizational chart.

Tom Hitter“There is … a policy and procedure from 1987 or ’88 that kind of outlines a process to develop a policy but really does not provide any guidance,” Hitter said. “And people were not following any of it, anyway. It had become completely fractured and decentralized and hard to use.”

Hitter, who previously worked as an attorney for the federal Office of Management and Budget, said that because there weren’t clear steps to develop a policy, the process could take forever, “or people would just move forward and not involve other parts of the University. So people would be surprised when they were told they had comply with a policy that they didn’t even know was under development.”

The goal of the office, which currently includes Hitter and three others, is to establish a “transparent and inclusive process where people know there’s a policy because we’ve announced it and involved them in making it.”

“We want the office to be a resource to help people develop policies and then help run it through the right review process,” Hitter said, which includes making sure all the stakeholders that would be affected by the policy are represented during its development.

“It's always a bit of a necessary evil in any kind of complex organization that you have to have a clear and effective way of communicating how things work and requirements,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “And so the policy office is being set up, really in an effort to support that and make it easier for us to have clearly written and effective and usable policy. It’s really designed to make the University both run better and be friendlier.”

Hitter has been making the rounds and introducing himself to faculty, staff and student groups, including the Faculty Assembly on Nov. 27.

Gallagher said reaction has been generally positive to the new office, although he said there’s always a “healthy skepticism on formality and bureaucracy. And I think that’s natural. And frankly, it’s always a little bit healthy.”

In particular, Gallagher said reaction from the Senate Council leadership has been positive, “and that has to do with the fact that we’re building the shared governance right into this process. So that actually gives them even more clarity on what policies are actively being worked on, and makes sure that consultation is baked in, if you will, and that we don’t have some mysterious review process when it’s done.”

Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said, “I think this office is a great idea. My experience has been that we have several policy gaps that need to be filled. Moreover, this provides a place for faculty, staff, students, etc. to suggest policies that would benefit the whole community.”

Centralized services

The policy office would become a central resource — particularly through a new searchable website that Hitter hopes will be up and running before the end of the year — to ask questions about the process and to see what policies are already in existence.

Hitter also hopes to make the policies more readable, because many of the older ones haven’t been updated in a couple of decades and are hard to understand.

All University-wide policies would have to be run through Hitter’s office and go through an approval process that would end at the chancellor’s office. A faculty-related policy would still go through all the levels of shared governance before either being approved by Senate Council or being sent to the chancellor for approval, depending on how wide a scope the policy covered.

A few policies the office is currently working on:

  • Academic integrity policy, which would limit donors' say in what is being taught at the University.
  • An update to the nondiscrimination policy.

“But the most urgent one is the policy on policies,” Hitter said. “Once that gets in place, then I'll be able to work on the others, because that will establish the process.”

If an individual school is developing a policy, it could use the policy office as a resource for how to go about the process, and the office would make sure that the new policy does not conflict with University policy and “we also may have recommendations that you should talk to this particular school because they are also developing a policy in this area, and make those type of connections.”

If someone has a complaint about a policy while it’s being developed, then the policy office would address that. But once a policy is in place, any complaints would be handled by the unit implementing the policy.

“To give an example, (if we helped) with a policy on sexual harassment and discrimination, we would draft that, we would help run it through the review process, we would publish it on our website,” Hitter said. “Once that’s done and someone wants to file a complaint or has a concern with how it’s being implemented, they could raise that with us, but we would send them to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. They are administering that policy.

“If you would like to revise that policy, we can help do that, get the right people in the room to draft a potential revision. But if your concern is with how it’s being implemented, you have to talk to the office implementing it.”

Making accountability clear

Hitter believes that each policy should include who is responsible for policing compliance.

“Right now, most of our policies don't … have an accountable official that you can go to, to say, ‘Hey, make sure people are following this,’ ” Hitter said. “I think that one of the important elements of any university policies is accountability. And that will be part of my effort to make sure that moving forward our policies do have accountability, and clear roles and responsibilities.”

Gallagher concurred. “A well-written policy makes it really clear who’s responsible for implementing, and that’s one of the deficiencies that I think we have now. … Anytime somebody is arguing over who’s policing that, you have a problem.”

Hitter said that when he worked in federal government, he was separate from the people he was helping. “Here, it’s nice to be around the faculty and students you help, and that policies I help develop will help them achieve their mission at Pitt. It’s cool to be able to have that direct interaction with them.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.