New Pitt Provost Ann E. Cudd, speaking to the attendees at new faculty orientation, said in a Q&A period following her initial remarks that she’s “not really clear on what the need would be” for a Pitt faculty union.
Cudd — who admitted to being in Pittsburgh for just 36 hours before she addressed the crowd of more than 200 attendees, including 149 new faculty on Aug. 27 — said she’s still learning about the University’s demands.
Before opening the floor to questions, she told the new faculty that she expected them to do “impactful research that changes your discipline and the broader world.”
Unionization was a topic on the minds of a few people who asked Cudd for her stance.
“Basically, my position is that the faculty members own this institution, and they are the people who govern it,” Cudd said. “You govern it through the various governance processes, and we hope that you all will take part in that.
“Given that, the University is a different kind of place, I think, than many of the places where unions have been essential to giving voice to workers within an organization. … So, my feeling is that a faculty union, particularly one that encompasses all the tenured faculty who have basically lifetime appointments … that doesn't really make sense.”
She said that she was aware of other universities that have unions, but she’s not sure if it’s necessary for Pitt to have one as well.
“From my perspective, I don't really see the need and I think it would set up kind of an adversarial situation that might not be as productive as we would like,” Cudd said.
When another attendee asked Cudd to explain her position on unionization for grad students and adjuncts, she said it’s important to keep in mind how different those positions can be.
“So, one thing is that the conditions of employment or work or study are very different across those different groups,” Cudd said. “So that creates some interesting situations for them. Some graduate students, for instance, might have duty-free fellowships, and so seeing them as workers is really an unusual way to view them.
“And then there is a matter of the labor relations board with the state, which has an important effect on how workers can choose to organize and divide or collect together. And I understand that's a little complicated in Pennsylvania … so that makes it a bit of a mixed bag.”
In her main address, she offered attendees wisdom from her personal experiences teaching, goals for her tenure and expectations for faculty.
She talked to attendees about a mentor who changed her life while she was a graduate student at Pitt: Tamera Horowitz, the first woman to chair Pitt's Department of Philosophy. Cudd called Horowitz’s influence on her work “unmistakable.” Horowitz died in 2000 of complications from a brain tumor.
Horowitz inspired Cudd to not let self-doubt get in the way of her work, Cudd said. She used that example to encourage new faculty to be mentors to others and to find their own mentors.
“The classroom is a crucible for civic citizenship and democracy,” Cudd said. “By working together on appropriately difficult and demanding challenges, students learn to collaborate and respect each other across differences, and this pays off for them as individuals and for our society.”
She said Pitt faces stiff competition from other universities, stress to maintain high rankings on the annual U.S. News and World Report study, and an “increasingly skeptical public” that is unsure about the value of a bachelor’s degree in the future economy.
Cudd then told faculty that she’s determined to take on the many challenges.
“These are some of the questions we face. Your work as faculty in teaching and research is my focal point, centered on the mission of teaching and research,” Cudd said. “My goal is to support it and keep it in sharp focus, and I believe that it's essential for us to successfully compete in this environment in order to continue to pursue inclusive excellence in research and education.”
The first questioner asked Cudd for her stance on Pitt’s connections with industry partners
“Again, our teaching and our research are our main goals, our main mission,” Cudd said. “So, I think, especially in terms of the way that corporate partners can help us to present to students real challenges, real world challenges, that they can then use to further their education.”
An attendee later asked if there were plans for action similar to New York University, which announced in August that tuition would be free for medical students at its school.
“I have no plans … for tuition-free medical school at this point, but I'll be very happy to work with leaders in the medical school and the chancellor to consider how we might respond to that shot across the bow,” Cudd said. “It's a game changer.”
She later committed to advocating for international students and fostering a strong relationship between policy makers and the University after another attendee asked about her plans for governmental relations.
“I think it's really critical for us to stand up for the rights, abilities and capacities to support for students and faculty members at our university,” Cudd said. “Beyond that, I’m also very supportive of faculty members using their research to inform policy. … I hope that many of you will make your voices heard and inform the various debates.”