On the Issues: University Senate Presidential Candidates Talk Issues Facing Campus, Faculty

University Senate officer and Faculty Assembly member elections are scheduled to take place online via the My Pitt portal from April 4-19. In this year’s race, three faculty members are running for Senate presidency: Carey Balaban, Chris Bonneau and Wesley Rohrer. The presidential candidates responded in writing to questions posed by University Times Editor Ellie Graves. Candidates were asked to limit each response to no more than 300 words. Some responses have been edited for length, clarity and style.

Carey Balaban

Carey BalabanCarey Balaban is a professor of otolaryngology in the School of Medicine. He holds secondary appointments in the departments of neurobiology (School of Medicine), communication sciences and disorders (School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences) and bioengineering (Swanson School of Engineering). A Pitt faculty member since 1988, Balaban has been involved actively in the University Senate since 1993 and received the Senate Outstanding Service Award in 2009. He also served as vice provost for faculty affairs from 2012 to 2015. In that role, he worked in an advisory capacity with faculty and administrators to interpret and oversee established policies and procedures. Balaban also served as a member of the Council of Deans and as a liaison between the Office of the Provost and the Faculty Assembly. Currently, he is an elected member of the tenure and academic freedom committee and the Faculty Assembly.

Chris Bonneau

Chris BonneauChris Bonneau is associate professor of political science. He primarily studies American politics with an emphasis on judicial politics. Bonneau earned his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 2002 and joined the Pitt faculty that same year. He is co-founder of the Pitt Prison Education Project (PPEP), and is one of the country’s leading experts on the politics of state judicial selection.  




Wesley Rohrer

Wes RohrerWesley Rohrer is an associate professor of public health education in the Graduate School of Public Health and associate professor of health information management in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science. He is co-director of the doctoral program in Health Sciences Research & Policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and co-director of the Health Systems Engineering Certificate program in HPM. Rohrer’s scholarly interests include global health systems and policy; organization studies in health care; and leadership theory, practice and ethics. Rohrer serves as board chair of Off-the-Floor Pittsburgh, a nonprofit agency that provides furniture and furnishings to families in housing crisis and transition and as a board member and former Chair of CLASS, the Region’s premier disability services and advocacy agency.    


What accomplishments make you the most qualified candidate for Senate president?


We are fortunate that the qualifications of our candidates are unquestionable. Therefore, I will explain some aspects of my qualifications and perspective to be considered by my colleagues. I am in the unusual position having experience in shared governance as both a faculty member and a member of senior administration. After returning to my full-time faculty duties from half-time faculty/ half-time vice provost for faculty affairs status, I have remained engaged in shared governance because I regard it as a duty of academic citizenship. Several highlights of past service in governance include:

  • Participation in processes leading to the formulation of Provost Maher’s 1999 Memorandum on Annual Evaluation of Faculty, which formalized uniform expectations for reviews of annual faculty performance.

  • As vice provost for faculty affairs, I worked closely with the Senate ad hoc committee to investigate NTS faculty issues from its inception. Participation in this committee, chaired by our colleague, Professor Irene Frieze, is truly a highlight of my experiences with governance. I view this committee as a paradigm for moving forward as an institution. I encourage you to ask any participants for a candid opinion.


I am in my 16th year at Pitt, and throughout my time here I have been an active and passionate voice for the faculty. I have served on the tenure and academic freedom committee for the past seven years and am currently co-chair of the newly created faculty affairs committee. This new committee will focus on reviewing existing policies and providing recommendations on proposed policies that affect faculty life here at Pitt, with a particular focus on part-time and non-tenure stream faculty. On these committees, I have been dedicated to protecting the academic freedom and due process rights of faculty. I helped modify the new intellectual property and consensual relations policies to protect faculty rights and freedoms. Additionally, I have been an active participant in creating a fair appeals process for those faculty members who have faced salary reductions. Additionally, I have served on the Faculty Assembly for five years and the University Senate for three years. My service to the University community has involved faculty issues on both the lower campus and upper campus, tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream faculty, full-time and part-time faculty. As the faculty’s representative and voice to the administration, I will continue this commitment.


In my 40 years with the University, serving in academic administration and faculty roles, I have been impressed with the quality of leadership provided by our Senate presidents. Without exception, these leaders have made considerable investment in strengthening faculty governance; developing effective partnerships with University administration; and leading initiatives to enhance the academic culture, improve the work life of the faculty, promote greater diversity and inclusion and advocate for constituencies (e.g., part-time faculty, whose needs and contributions are often underappreciated). This is both an impressive and intimidating legacy for one willing to stand for election. I decided to run for Senate president because competitive elections serve as the oil that lubricates governance processes, foster the exchange of differing perspectives and increase the awareness of the role of faculty governance among those otherwise not engaged. Although I do not claim to be uniquely qualified to serve as president, I offer my entire body of work as an educator at the University as justification, complemented by balanced judgment and a collegial approach to decision making. I have served as a faculty member for 35 years with academic appointments in two schools of the University: GSPH and SHRS and as an academic program coordinator in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. I held roles as assistant and associate dean in fiscal operations and academic programs and served as acting department chair, vice chair and director for various graduate programs in the health sciences. I have taught and mentored more than 1,000 students and last year was awarded the Craig Excellence in Teaching Award from my colleagues in Pitt Public Health. I have been active in faculty governance throughout my history with the University, having served on the athletics, PUP and community relations committees and currently chair the budget policies committee.  

The University is currently searching for its next provost. What experiences and qualities are most important to the next person chosen to serve as the University’s chief academic officer?


I have confidence that the search committee will recommend candidates for chief academic officer who have both bona fide academic credentials and demonstrated administrative skills for leading all facets of our academic mission. I am open to considering thoughtfully different visions for the academic endeavor and place a high value on face-to-face consultative skills. In the interest of brevity, permit me to modify [in italics] Justice Potter Stewart’s well-known concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio (378 U.S. 197):

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [of a chief academic officer], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”

I have every confidence that the search committee and Chancellor Gallagher can recognize a highly qualified chief academic officer to advance our institutional agenda.


Besides having higher education administrative experience, there are two qualities I would like to see the next provost bring to Pitt. First, I would hope the next provost has a demonstrated success record with the important issue of diversity and inclusion. It is crucial for Pitt to create an environment where all people feel respected and are given the tools to do their best work. I think the current provost and vice provosts have done a good job at beginning to create a culture of inclusion and would like the next provost to maintain this as a priority as well as develop additional strategies for success. I think outreach to the diverse communities around Pittsburgh and our other campuses is a good place to start. Second, the next provost needs to value a liberal arts education. At Pitt, we should be concerned with providing our students a world-class education that is founded on the liberal arts principles of critical thinking, clear expression and robust debate of ideas. Our students need to be well-rounded individuals in addition to well-trained in their chosen major. While liberal arts departments do not generate as much grant money or intellectual property as some other departments, we need to ensure that they are given the necessary staff and resources to fulfill their role in the complete education of our students.


The importance of the role of the provost as chief academic officer of a major AAU research institution needs little justification, but one can argue that choosing a person to assume academic leadership at this challenging time for institutions of higher education is especially critical. The University faces continuing fiscal pressure due to the likelihood of decreasing funding from the commonwealth, uncertain funding from NIH and other federal sources, the prospects of declining enrollments at our regional campuses and aggressive competition for the best and brightest students. Given the University’s recognition as the leading public university in the Northeast region and the high ranking of many of our academic and professional development programs, new revenue streams must be identified to sustain the excellence of all our academic programs and the foundation of research and scholarship upon which they depend. Quality does not come cheap; yet, the University must also avoid setting tuition levels that are uncompetitive without sufficient pools of scholarship assistance to reduce the net burden to students and their families. To address these and other pressing concerns while maintaining the highest level of excellence in our research, teaching and service programs, we must look beyond impeccable academic credentials. Selection criteria should include evidence of demonstrated visionary leadership as a change agent in implementing innovative approaches with a demonstrable commitment to collaboration with key stakeholders including community partners. Senate leadership has made considerable progress in developing productive, collaborative relationships with the University administration. We want assurance that the new provost will be committed to sustaining effective engagement with faculty, staff and students in shared governance processes. Furthermore, the provost must be an effective spokesperson in partnering with other institutions to address regional problems of workforce development, primary and secondary education, income security, public health and quality-of-life challenges.  

There are a number important and high-profile issues unfolding here at Pitt that directly concern faculty. What are the most pressing issues or greatest challenges the incoming Senate president faces? How do you plan to approach these issues?


I lack powers of prophecy to anticipate which continuing issues will become urgent. There are shorter-term issues that are receiving University-wide attention, such as intellectual property assignment, management of faculty conflicts of interest or commitment, faculty affairs issues, socially responsible endowment investment, increased formal recognition for teaching and service activities and improved cultural awareness for inclusiveness. Colleagues who are interested in unionization should be engaged to bring their concerns to the standing committees and Senate leadership for resolution. Some issues are addressed properly by shared governance within academic units (e.g., faculty salary reduction policies), rather than in the Senate. I am always willing to assist faculty in advocacy at the level of a dean or campus president. There are longer-term issues that will shape our view of the academic endeavor and public opinion about the missions of a university. These issues include:

  • Balancing values of traditional scholarship and academia with the values of entrepreneurship has been an issue of concern for more than a decade, when I gave a plenary address on the topic to a professional society. I am concerned that we preserve the university as a home for fundamental research and teaching, rather than devolving into a confederation of insular entrepreneurs seeking market share.
  • The story line that a university is a purveyor of degrees to yield a ‘return on investment’ is a palpable threat. This commoditization of our higher mission is an insidious perversion of the purpose of education. I recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wise admonition: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically … Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of education … If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of closed-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists … .” (Maroon Tiger, Feb. 1947)


I see three pressing issues facing the next Senate president. First, we will have a new provost, potentially one from outside the University. Thus, there is likely to be a learning curve for that individual and how shared governance works at Pitt. The next president is going to have to work closely with the provost to ensure that the faculty are consulted on major initiatives. Second, diminished state funding has led Pitt to begin having conversations about potentially become a private university. This would dramatically change faculty life (making it better in some ways and worse in others, most likely), from class sizes to teaching loads to compensation, etc. As the provost recently said to the Faculty Assembly, while the University has no intention of becoming private, it would be fiscally irresponsible not to examine all issues given the continual budget issues in the state legislature. The faculty needs strong, energetic, transparent leadership in all stages of this conversation. Third, and finally, there is currently a drive for faculty unionization. The fact that this drive exists and has significant support is an indication that there is dissatisfaction with the administration among many faculty members. The next Senate president needs to actively engage with this effort and — regardless of whether it succeeds or fails — work with the administration on the issues that are causing dissatisfaction. The Senate president needs to make visible, tangible efforts to ensure that Pitt is working well for everyone, not just those who are on the main campus or in tenure-track positions or who have tenure, etc. My approach to all of these issues will be characterized by listening, consulting widely and representing the faculty clearly and passionately.


Among the pressing concerns facing the University are:

  • Preserving academic freedom as a core institutional value while providing a safe environment for faculty, staff and student engagement.

Protecting freedom of academic inquiry at the University is central to its character and mission. Insuring diversity of opinion, ethnic and cultural traditions and personal narratives not only leads to more informed decision-making and better understanding, but also provides opportunities for developing relationships. Concomitantly, the University has a responsibility to insure safety and security of faculty, staff and students from the actions of outside parties whose primary intention is to incite violence, discord and disruption through hate speech and fear-mongering.

  • Evaluating the strategic direction, mission and goals of our regional campuses.

The recent decision to proceed with a repurposing of Pitt–Titusville and fostering collaboration with partners and community colleges to provide an academic and vocational training center to serve the needs of this region is an innovative model that might be replicated as opportunities arise. The contributions and sustainability of our regional campuses as academic centers and economic generators for their communities must be given priority.

  • Confronting the threats to the rule of law, due process, fairness and democratic values globally.

The University has an opportunity and a responsibility to serve as a center of excellence for research, teaching, service and advocacy for social justice globally at times when authoritarian regimes and factions hostile to democratic values, respect for law, due process, human rights and equity are on the rise. Pitt can take a leading role in research programs that explore the historical, socio-cultural, political and economic factors that foster these adverse forces as the foundation for evidence-based strategies to combat and mitigate them. In so doing, the University will distinguish itself as a prophetic voice for and champion of social justice.

What can be done to ensure that the full diversity of Pitt’s faculty is represented in shared governance? Are there strategies you have for increasing engagement and making it more accessible for a diverse constituency?


The first step for these types of questions is Senate engagement in self-study. The issues of diversity and accessibility are within the purview of the standing committee on equity, inclusion, and anti-discrimination advocacy. The identification of structural impediments to full participation is within the purview of the bylaws and procedures committee. Potential impediments from a career advancement perspective are within the purview of the tenure & academic freedom committee and the faculty affairs committee. We can proceed on the basis of their findings. In parallel, I will also explore the possibility of making a short presentation at faculty and new chair/administrator orientation programs to encourage participation in shared governance. Sustainability of a culture of shared governance depends upon engagement of faculty at all career stages, so that we can adapt to new challenges within the context of institutional experience. To paraphrase a Talmudic statement: to be truly wise, one must be able to learn from all people. Diversity and inclusiveness give us opportunities to govern wisely by learning from each other.


Simply put, we need more diverse voices in faculty governance. Senate leadership needs to actively recruit faculty members from different backgrounds and encourage them to run for positions and serve on committees. This will improve the quality of committees and well as Faculty Assembly and Senate Council. We need to review our bylaws to explore how rules requiring that certain people be included on certain committees may preclude us from hearing from new and different voices. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the disproportionate service burden members of underrepresented groups bear. Data clearly show that these individuals serve on more department and university committees than their white, male colleagues. So, while we want more diverse participation in shared governance, we do not want such participation to have adverse consequences for the scholarly career of these individuals. Diversity is valuable for all of us, and those of us who have privilege need to be willing to use it to be good allies, rather than expecting members of underrepresented groups to do all the hard work. In terms of strategies, I think we need to work beyond traditional means of communication. For example, we should be using existing members of Faculty Assembly and our committees to help us identify people to serve in the future. In my time on the assembly or on committees, I have only once been asked if I know any colleagues or other people across the university who I think would be good candidates to serve. There are a lot of people interested in serving but who are never asked to do so. And given how little service is valued when it comes time for promotion or salary raises, individuals are not likely to actively seek out such opportunities. We need to be proactive.


Insuring diversity of faculty representation in shared governance remains a difficult challenge — the achievement of which depends to some degree on achieving a considerably more diverse faculty across the University. The latter is also an important goal to insure diversity of perspectives, opinion and values within the academic culture. Based on my experience serving on faculty search committees, I recognize both the commitment to this goal and the constraints in achieving it. Nonetheless, we must make a sustained effort to increase minority representation on our faculty at all ranks in all disciplines. It is also necessary to increase the awareness of the activities and achievements of the University Senate within the broader faculty community, including policy changes, advocacy for faculty welfare, protection of academic freedom and due process and community service engagement. During his term in office as Senate president, Dr. Pinsky led a concerted effort to raise the profile of the Senate by encouraging faculty representatives to serve as ambassadors to their colleagues and similar efforts should be renewed. The fact that participation in the Senate elections is chronically low is a disturbing indicator that the majority of faculty may not feel engaged in faculty governance since it is not perceived to be relevant to their concerns and priorities. Encouraging faculty colleagues to commit to serving on standing committees of interest and/or to stand for elective office may be the most effective way to engage faculty in governance and attend to University level policies, initiatives and activities that may affect their work life and environment. 

How do you perceive the campus climate here at Pitt? What role can faculty play in shaping the culture?


In general, I sense a very positive campus climate. Because the faculty and senior administration have a very strong rapport, we engage in meaningful and open discussion of mutual concerns. My experience as both a faculty member and a member of senior administrative staff has instilled a personal appreciation for the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Although there are always challenges, the current campus climate provides a solid basis for moving forward institutionally. Permit me to share a personal perspective. Now in my 30th year on the faculty, I have thrived on the collaborative environment and the willingness of all stakeholders to work together for the good of the institution. Faculty activity in teaching, scholarship and service is a primary determinant of the culture at any university. Hence, faculty members should exemplify high standards of professional and personal conduct. Respectful and professional interaction with colleagues, students and staff is ‘where the rubber meets the road’; it is the bedrock of campus climate. Meaningful engagement in shared governance is one of the tools that I have tried to use toward this end. I feel fortunate to have the ability to exercise the rights and privileges of academic citizenship within the university. I welcome new opportunities to work with all of my colleagues to improve the academic climate, as we prepare to face nascent challenges together.


In recent years, the administration has conducted several surveys about the campus climate at Pitt. Based on the COACHE survey results, 74% of full-time faculty report they would recommend Pitt as a place to work. This is a positive number, but I think we can do better. There was significant dissatisfaction about the clarity of the tenure and promotion process; this is something we should all work to improve. Additionally, only 65% reported feeling comfortable with the climate for diversity and inclusion at Pitt. This is also something we need to work to improve. Finally, in the AAU Campus Climate Survey, only 56% of students believed it was “very or extremely likely” that university officials would conduct “a fair investigation” in the event of a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct, and females were less likely to trust the university in this regard than males. This indicates we have a lot of work to do at the University to gain the trust of students that we take these issues seriously and will deal with them fairly. On all these issues, it is my belief that faculty need to take a leading role in shaping the culture of our campus. We need to take them seriously and signal to our colleagues and students that we are aware of their concerns and are working to improve the climate at Pitt. As Senate president, one of my primary goals will be improving the campus climate and working with the faculty and administration to create an inclusive environment in which all faculty are able to excel at their research and teaching.


My perceptions of the campus climate or culture at the University is somewhat limited by the fact that almost all my teaching, mentoring and advising experience has been with students in graduate, professional education and doctoral programs in the health sciences. These students have been for the most part mature, career-focused and value-driven young adults who are committed to their discipline and professional development. They tend to be focused, high-energy and high-achieving students who often must balance work and sometimes family responsibilities with their academic workload. Although I cannot speak directly to the culture and experience of our undergraduate population, in my service on faculty senate and committee work, I have been impressed with the undergraduate leaders I’ve met. As a group they have been articulate, self-possessed and socially adept. These undergraduates reflect well upon the quality of the programs and cohorts they represent, and their overall effectiveness and relative maturity suggest that they have benefited from a student culture that promotes the qualities and behavior they demonstrate. Similarly, the student services administrators and staff with whom I’ve had interaction exhibit professionalism and commitment to providing a resource-rich and supportive environment conducive to student learning, self-actualization and participation in service to the broader community. These are all characteristics of a healthy community and a climate that fosters personal growth and effective citizenship.    


Ellie Graves, egraves@pitt.edu, 412-624-4360