Provost clarifies pandemic-related tenure stream policy


Acknowledging that COVID-19 and other pandemic-related issues continue to affect some faculty members working to achieve tenure, a new provost memo clarifies policy language to include circumstances such as long-term illness and expanded duties to meet departmental or Pitt-based needs.

The memo from Provost Ann Cudd, which was discussed at the May 11 Faculty Assembly meeting, recognizes that pandemic-related interruptions and setbacks may have “particularly profound” impacts on tenure stream faculty during their probationary and mandatory review periods. The Type A Temporary Transfer Out of the Tenure Stream policy that faculty members — except for School of Medicine faculty, who do not qualify — are asked to follow includes the following examples:

  • Long-term serious illness of the faculty member or spouse, including “long COVID”; dependent-care demands, particularly when caused by COVID-19 infections or staffing shortages.

  • Expanded teaching, administrative or clinical duties to meet explicitly defined department, school or University needs.

  • An individual's scholarly activity that clearly requires additional time to judge its outcome or is interrupted because of pandemic-related circumstances.

In recognition of the “broad range of challenges” faculty have faced since 2020, Cudd — in consultation with the Council of Deans — said she has “expanded the scope of the information” faculty are invited to provide for consideration with their annual review and tenure and promotion materials “to include documentation of challenges beyond those directly caused” by the pandemic and acknowledges that “a statement of challenges should be invited again for 2022.”

In addition to this guidance, Faculty Senate President Robin Kear explained, “Faculty Affairs in the Provost’s Office plans to provide training for associate deans, chairs and other stakeholders on this topic, as well as the various leaves and similar policies.”

Institutional conflict of interest policy

Faculty Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a new policy on institutional conflict of interest (ICOI). While Pitt already has a general conflict of interest policy covering most faculty and staff, the ICOI policy will cover anyone with “chair,” “president,” “dean,” “provost” or “chancellor” in their title.

Bill Yates, vice chancellor for research protections, noted in April that Pitt is “one of the few institutions that does not have an ICOI policy,” adding its general purpose was “to assure that institutional financial interests or the external engagements of University officials do not influence or appear to influence the integrity of the University's core missions.”

At the May 11 Assembly meeting, Rob Rutenbar, senior vice chancellor for research, also emphasized how unusual it is for a “university at the scale we're operating not to have an institutional conflict of interest policy. So, this this actually closes a hole.”

Noting the close similarities among conflict-of-interest policies at peer institutions, Rutenbar said he thinks the committee “landed in a nice place in terms of the governance architecture — that leadership has a role, Faculty Senate has a robust role. On this one, I think it all came together very nicely.”

If approved at next week’s Senate Council meeting, the policy would create an ICOI committee “to identify and provide management plans for potential ICOIs by reviewing ‘threshold university transactions’ and advising on whether they should be undertaken, undertaken only if revised, or passed by.”

New promotion and tenure considerations

Faculty Assembly also easily approved recommendations to include community-engaged scholarship and work on diversity, equity and inclusion in promotion and tenure decisions.

The recommendation defines community-engaged scholarship as activities that “collaboratively generate, exchange or apply academic and community knowledge and practices through reciprocal partnerships among members of the university” and the broader public.

Approaches include community-based participatory research, engaged-action research and research-practice partnerships that, the document says, result in sharing knowledge through academic publications, policy recommendations, technical reports, exhibitions and joint projects that “benefit the community and the university.”

Kear explained that the recommendations are “about recognition that gives credit for work that people are already doing and who in the past have not received credit through existing promotion and tenure guidelines.” Rather than “requirements,” she encouraged viewing them as “recommendations that will flow down from the provost’s office to the school and to the unit level for consideration on how they can or cannot, or will or will not, meet these recommendations in their fields.

“These will make Pitt look like other places where this work is important,” she added.

With the Assembly’s approval, Cudd will review and advance the recommendations to the Council of Deans, allowing each school to determine what guidelines work best within their departmental and scholarship parameters.

Senate committee elections

Kear also announced that the election for open seats on Senate Council committees has concluded and the results are available on the Senate website.

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at


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