By DONOVAN HARRELL
Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine Anantha Shekhar told members of the Faculty Assembly that he will be focusing on expanding undergraduate programs, health justice, community engagement and more during his first year in his new role.
In addition, members at the Nov. 5 meeting discussed their concerns with the idea of a “preferred journals” list for faculty publications and approved a resolution that would urge the University to re-evaluate its teacher evaluation process.
Also, John Stoner, executive director of academic affairs at the University Center for International Studies and co-chair of the Educational Policies Committee, announced that Pitt has canceled off-campus study abroad programs for the spring semester.
A ‘holistic’ approach to Health Sciences
Shekhar told Faculty Assembly that he’s had an “unusual” start to his job as the campus and country grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest related to racial injustice.
However, some exciting things are in store for the schools of the Health Sciences, Shekhar said, as he outlined key areas of focus for the beginning of his tenure at Pitt.
Research, clinical and educational excellence
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Commercialization and product development
Regarding research, clinical and educational excellence, Shekhar said he wants the School of Medicine, already one of the nation’s top medical schools, to rise higher in nationwide rankings and attract more students. The school would also benefit from a more “holistic approach” to education, which could help break down the divisions between the health sciences.
“We have so many opportunities for interprofessional education between the six Health Sciences schools, as well as many of the social sciences that are really relatively sparsely integrated into healthcare, health equity and health justice,” he said.
The School of Medicine does an excellent job of applying research to impactful products, he added, but has more work to do when it comes to translating research to Pitt’s surrounding communities.
“We certainly have the raw material to be extraordinary in that, and we should be translating a lot of our learning and our scholarship and our research into benefiting society and people,” Shekhar said.
Community engagement and work on health justice varies across the different Health Sciences schools, he added.
“I would say the School of Medicine is only modestly engaged and could be much more integrated with community work and focus much more on health justice than we are currently,” Shekhar said.
And when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion in faculty growth and leadership in the health sciences, Shekhar said he’s working with the Office of the Provost on a series of programs and initiatives designed to support and recruit more diverse faculty.
Shekhar said he expects nearly 50 new positions to be created or repurposed to help meet these goals.
After the meeting, a Pitt spokesman clarified that the details of these diversity programs will are still being finalized and will finish soon.
“Dr. Shekhar and others will bring forward a plan to hire faculty with expertise relevant to race and the social determinants of well-being,” the spokesman said.
Additionally, Shekhar said he is focusing on expanding Pitt’s public health program and undergraduate course offerings in the health sciences — particularly in nursing, he said. He also said he will ask the incoming dean of the Graduate School of Public Health to develop an undergraduate public health program with the School of Arts and Sciences.
Are lists of preferred journals appropriate?
Elizabeth Mulvaney, a clinical associate professor at the School of Social Work and member of the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee, introduced a series of concerns that the committee had relating to a school using a “preferred journals” list for faculty publications.
Mulvaney didn’t name the particular school that used the list. Other schools may also be keeping a similar list, she added. These lists are supposedly being used to determine faculty evaluations and promotions.
The lists seem to imply that certain publications can improve the perception of Pitt among its peers.
Outlined in a document given to Faculty Assembly, Mulvaney said she and other members of the committee were concerned that this list can be harmful to faculty and academic freedom in several different ways, including:
Forcing faculty to change their research interests to fit the specific publications on the list instead of pursuing their unique interests.
Stifling creativity, innovation and academic pursuit of unique or unconventional ideas.
Punishing faculty who don’t publish in specific lists in annual retention, evaluation and tenure and promotion processes
However, some faculty believe there may be some benefits to this type of list. Penny Morel, co-chair of the Research committee, said a list could provide a valid way to assess faculty, but it should be expanded beyond “just the highest impact journals.”
Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said the lists can be a way to evaluate faculty, however, he said it's best to strike a balance with a potential list.
“I think there's got to be this kind of like balance in this notion of having a set list,” Bonneau said. “(The list) could be used to stifle innovation, stifle diversity, encourage departments not to take chances in certain kinds of scholars who study certain kinds of things. I think it is a concern.”
In the final discussion of the meeting, Stoner introduced the “Proposed Faculty Assembly Resolution on the effective assessment of teaching at the University of Pittsburgh” for members’ consideration.
Pitt faculty have repeatedly voiced concerns with the role student opinions play in faculty evaluations, citing potential biases for women and faculty of color.
Among other strategies outlined in the resolution, it calls for the provost to encourage schools to use a variety of ways to evaluate faculty performance, and for deans or to clarify the role student opinions play in evaluations and personnel matters.
The resolution passed with 37 votes in favor of it, three abstentions and one no vote.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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