By SUSAN JONES
If there was one word to describe Provost Ann Cudd’s outlook on the upcoming school year, it would be: optimistic.
“I think that we’re still coming out of the pandemic and there are some lingering things … but I do believe that … we’ve learned things from the pandemic and we’re carrying those forward. I think that’s some opportunity.”
She also noted that although the state appropriation was a struggle this summer, “what we found was that we have tremendous support from the people of the state and from the leaders of our community. … I ultimately became pretty optimistic about that.
“I think there’s also ongoing challenges with the image of higher education and its affordability and its return on investment for students, and we want to make sure that we continue to stay relevant, that we continue to be accessible to a broad range of people,” she said. “That will be an ongoing challenge and opportunity.”
She cited the recently completed Provost Academy and the Pitt Success program as examples of ways to reach different groups. The Provost Academy is an invitation-only program for students who were awarded the Pitt Success Pell Match Grant, a Pittsburgh Promise scholarship or have identified as a first-generation college student. It just welcomed its fourth class, with more than 100 first-year students who participated in a week of academic and social activities to help get adjusted to college life.
Cudd discussed several subjects in an interview with the University Times this week.
Earlier this summer, Kathleen Blee, dean of the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, announced she would step down next year, and earlier this month, James R. Martin left his role as dean of the Swanson School of Engineering to become vice chancellor for STEM research and innovation in the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research.
Even though these are Pitt’s two largest schools, Cudd isn’t worried. “I think these kinds of transitions are fairly common, and if you look at them, the tenure of most of our leaders has been good. It has been above the national average. And sometimes these things come together.”
She said Blee has put the Dietrich School in “a great place and given us a great opportunity to find a new leader.” She also praised Sanjeev Shroff, who has stepped in as interim engineering dean, and Gene Anderson, the new dean as of Aug. 1 of Pitt Business, “who has hit the ground running.”
A search committee is in the process of being formed for the Dietrich School dean, Cudd said, and there will be one for the engineering dean as well, but “my thought is we will wait until a new chancellor is in place.”
The Year of Emotional Well-being
Cudd said she chose emotional well-being as the theme for this term’s “Year of …” after noticing last spring, as the pandemic was waning, “you couldn’t open a Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed or even New York Times without seeing something about the stresses of the pandemic and how they were especially affecting young people, but also work-life balance issues and things like that. I thought this would really resonate with people, and it seems like it has.”
The year’s co-chairs — Jay Darr, who in March was named associate dean of students for wellness, and Jamie Zelazny, assistant professor of nursing and psychiatry — are working behind the scenes now to get ready to request proposals.
Cudd envisions a variety of projects will fall under this banner, from mindfulness and yoga to academic research or activities relating to mental health and well being. This could include looks at empathy, humor or the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace and in one’s life.
The new budget model
The new decentralized budget model that Pitt has adopted is taking shape now. Cudd said she and Chief Financial Officer Hari Sastry, who both headed up the Budget ReSTART committee, recently held a retreat with the Council of Deans where they detailed progress and took questions.
“It’s been a very phased process, and we’ve worked through basically all of the phases,” she said. “One of the most important things was that the chancellor asked us to set some milestones that we would check through and these had to do with determining the model, gaining buy-in, disseminating information about it, receiving feedback. … We’ve met all of those milestones at this point that we were expecting to meet in order to start it up.”
Some of the process was slowed down by delays in the state budget being passed and the need to reach a memorandum of understanding with the faculty union about salaries. The Public Employee Relations Act says Pitt is in a static status quo, which means the administration can’t unilaterally change salaries for those in the union. But because a contract isn’t imminent, the two sides need to reach an understanding about what happens in the interim.
The budget planners also gathered a few years of previous budget data, including tuition income, research and indirect costs, to see “how they would work out with that particular year’s worth of data and outcomes, so that RC heads can look at that and say, ‘Oh, this is how these decisions would have led to … my beating my target or not. That was an essential part of that, and that was a lot of work on the part of the CFOs office.”
Training modules are available to RC heads through the CFO’s office and, Cudd said, they are working through the governance of the budget model.
Changes in the provost’s office
The Office of the Provost is looking to hire someone to provide a “unified, visible, coordinated presence” with respect to data science, both in teaching and research. Cudd said they want to build on the momentum of the Data Science Task Force report in 2020 and last year’s Year of Data and Society.
Cudd noted that data is “literally part of every aspect of life” and it’s of critical importance to both education and research. The key is to not have too much duplication of efforts across campus and to create synergy between programs.
The provost also is hoping to expand the graduate studies office. She said that office and Vice Provost Amanda Godley have “developed a really great vision for how we can better support graduate studies and graduate students.”
This includes developing more graduate programs, both in-person and online, and emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion. They also want to launch a graduate career and development office, which would help students who may not want to go into the narrow field they studied to figure out what their options are.
Cudd said the numbers of graduate students at Pitt started to go up again last year, and she’s awaiting the student census in September to see how the numbers are this year.
Other provost office initiatives include:
A joint project with the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, Rob Rutenbar, on a centers and institute’s policy that will eventually help elevate some interdisciplinary research efforts to the university level.
The cluster hire in race and the social determinants of health equity and well being, which started last year and is being led, in part, by John Wallace, vice provost for faculty diversity and development.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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