Faculty Affairs frustrated by lack of input from vice provosts


The tension over relations between shared governance, Pitt’s administration and the new faculty union spilled over into last week’s Senate Faculty Affairs committee meeting, with representatives from the provost’s office declining to attend and give their regular updates.

Lu-in Wang, vice provost for faculty affairs, had sent a message to committee co-chairs Tom Songer and Gosia Forte, that she and John Wallace, vice provost for faculty diversity and development, would not be able to attend the committee’s meeting because of the ongoing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations.

Songer’s understanding was that they likely would not attend any of the Faculty Affairs meetings this academic year, at least until a collective bargaining agreement is reached.

Robin Kear, Senate Council president, noted that the administration is taking a very conservative approach while negotiations continue, because the union has threatened to file an unfair labor charge if the administration discusses issues that are covered under mandatory bargaining with any member of the bargaining unit without the union present.

All Senate committees include members of the bargaining unit, and it’s still unclear what the “working conditions” part of the CBA will cover.

Committee member Pat Loughlin, of the Swanson School of Engineering, wondered if the administration representatives could come to the committee meetings to provide information, but not discuss issues.

“You could ask,” Kear said. “Shared governance is in a very difficult position. The continuous of  shared governance with administration has been objected to by the union. And the administration is going to, I think, become very hands off in shared governance because of that objection. I think that updates can turn into discussions quite easily and questions that then they just might say we can’t answer.”

She said that, “If the union leadership would enumerate what the issues of mandatory bargaining are, that would help guide us through this interim period before a collective bargaining agreement is signed. I don’t know what those are. No one has ever talked to me about it.”

“Shared governance is also the students and staff, and we all have a role to play in our academic environment,” said Songer, of the School of Public Health. “This action is affecting the academic affairs potentially of the University because of the lack of clarification of what the University can discuss, and what they cannot discuss.”

He pointed to some research he did on how other AAU universities with faculty unions operate, noting that some collective bargaining agreements specifically include protections for shared governance.

“There is demonstration from other institutions with faculty unions of clear guidelines of where shared governance actually has responsibilities that are not a part of the collective bargaining agreement, and they largely center around our academic environment and how our mission of providing education is accomplished,” Songer said.

Songer said he worries that the impasse between shared governance, the union and the administration is harming the mission of the University.

Loughlin pointed out that the Senate’s role has always been advisory and that it can continue to share its advice to both the administration and the union.

Songer agreed, “We can certainly contribute our opinions on matters that affect the well-being of our faculty, and we can definitely look to have strong advisory roles in how the academic mission of our University is carried out and how that affects our faculty.”

Committee member Vinayak Sant, of the School of Pharmacy, said the areas that the union wants to keep under collective bargaining are very broad, and that the Senate probably won’t be able to carve out the areas it can discuss until after a contract is signed.

To help the committee navigate this tricky landscape, it has invited Geovette Washington, Pitt’s chief legal officer, to a meeting early next year, and it planned to invited representatives from the union to its next meeting in December.

“I think we need to continue to work on improving communications,” Loughlin said. “And if we invite the University to a meeting and they say sorry, we can’t come because we’re afraid we’re going to be sued, OK, but let’s continue to keep the doors open and invite people who we think should be in, including union people.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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