By SUSAN JONES
When Laurie Kirsch started working in the Office of the Provost in 2013, one of her main goals was to “create an environment where all faculty can be successful.”
To make that happen as vice provost for Faculty Affairs, Development and Diversity, she had to change the perception of the office from one based strictly on oversight to something more “customer service” related, which fit in with her background as a business professor.
“I really felt like we’re there to serve,” she said. “Yes, we do provide oversight, we do monitor that what schools are doing is consistent with University policy. But we’re also there to facilitate. That took effort to get people to think more about customer service … than putting up roadblocks. We should be trying to figure out how to take those roadblocks down. I really felt like we’ve been able to do that. And that’s something I’m very proud of.”
Initially, she split her time between her role as vice provost for Faculty Development and her responsibilities as a professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business. But once she added the Faculty Affairs and Diversity roles, the job evolved into “more than a full-time position.”
In July, she’ll begin a sabbatical to work on “a backlog of scholarly writing,” and then she’ll transition back to full-time faculty member by fall 2021.
Provost Ann Cudd is conducting an internal search for a vice provost for Faculty Affairs and a vice provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, both of whom will spend 50 percent of their time on provost-related work and the rest in their own academic area.
In her announcement of Kirsch’s departure, Cudd said, “Throughout her time at Pitt, Laurie has deeply engaged with its faculty — first as a faculty member herself in the Katz Graduate School of Business as professor of Business Administration and then as senior associate dean for professional programs at Katz, where she supported faculty hiring, promotion and tenure processes and oversaw all masters and executive programs.
“When she was named vice provost for Faculty Affairs, Development, and Diversity …, she further expanded her commitment to the Pitt faculty — as well as the broader Pitt community. … As a vital member of the Office of the Provost’s leadership team, Laurie has tirelessly devoted herself to guiding transformative efforts — all to benefit Pitt’s faculty.”
The searches to replace Kirsch are on track to hopefully have people in place in June to overlap with her before she leaves. But she said she’ll be around if her replacements need advice, particularly since the transition will take place remotely.
A team effort
Kirsch credits her team with helping create an environment where faculty of all ranks and categories could thrive.
“I’m really proud of my team. I really feel like I built a strong team and strengthened the capacity of the staff to help develop that environment for faculty,” she said.
When she joined the provost’s office, there was very little in the way of professional development programs for faculty. Now, there are a variety of internal and external enrichment programs faculty can participate in, including monthly workshops on a variety of topics from September through April. Most of these sessions are live-streamed and recorded. Past presentations can be found here.
She also was instrumental in developing the ACC Academic Leaders Network, which launched in 2018 and is geared toward faculty with some academic leadership experience who aspire to additional leadership roles. Each school in the ACC can nominate five people to participate. Because the program involves visiting different ACC schools, it is being paused for the 2020-21 year in response to the pandemic.
Other programs started under Kirsch include:
The Institutional Mentoring Program Across a Community of Color (IMPACT), also started in 2018.
The Executive Leadership Training (ELiTe) for chairs, associate deans and vice presidents is supposed to roll out this fall, but she’s not sure how that proceed after the transition.
Women in Academic Leadership (WIN-AL), which began in spring 2019.
Pitt joined the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, which provides online career development and mentoring resources for faculty, post-docs and graduate students. Faculty can claim their free membership here.
The Provost Fellows program welcomed its first two faculty members this year to assist in the office and learn more about what the provost and her staff do.
Working with the Teaching and Learning Center
Working with the University Center for Teaching and Learning has been a real pleasure, Kirsch said. “That is a unit that I think is such a resource to the University environment. That became really clear when we had to switch to remote teaching, and the teaching center really rose to the occasion and provided guidance and help.”
Students assessments of teaching for the spring semester include questions about how well professors adapted to online teaching.
One of the first things she did with the teaching center was to look at diversity in curriculum. They held a summit in 2014 with a couple of dozen people. Now, the Provost’s Diversity Institute for Faculty Development, which started in 2015, attracts hundreds of faculty to workshops. “That’s been really gratifying to see how the reach of the diversity programming has expanded across the University,” Kirsch said.
Along with that, her office has tried to help recruit and retain a diverse faculty through teaching about implicit bias and developing a checklist of best practices for recruiting.
She’s also spearheaded programs to improve teaching excellence and innovation, including the course incubator program, to look at different ways to teach large-enrollment classes.
Kirsch said she and her staff have worked with faculty records to digitize paper-based records and streamline processes for appointments, promotion and tenure and requests for sabbaticals. This became even more important when Pitt moved to remote work.
Learning about shared governance
When she first joined the provost’s office, Kirsch said she knew very little about Pitt’s shared governance organizations, particularly the relationships between the Senate committees and the work that is done in the provost’s office.
“I really came to appreciate the role that all the different pieces play in moving the University forward and in enacting shared faculty governance,” Kirsch said. “It was a learning process for me.”
She advised her successors to consult with Lori Molinaro in the Senate office, “who is a wealth of historical knowledge about the Senate and the way things work,” and to cultivate strong relationships with the Senate leadership and with the people on the committees on which they serve.
Her replacements, she said, also should really listen to what faculty are saying, because something that might seem like an individual complaint might have more wide-ranging impact on faculty.
For instance, she said, an ad hoc committee several years ago on non-tenure-stream faculty really focused attention on things that people in administration weren’t thinking about. A lot of results came out of that, she said, such as emeritus status and career ladders for those now called appointment-stream faculty.
Senate President Chris Bonneau, a political science professor, said, “Laurie had a very difficult job, since she was inevitably the contact point for faculty grievances, which can be quite contentious. While this meant we did not always agree on decisions that were made, I always found her to be open and fair and interested in getting things right.
“Indeed, during the recent COVID-19 crisis, Laurie and I were able to work collaboratively and quickly to extend protections to faculty regarding tenure clock extensions and use of student evaluations of teaching. I am hopeful her replacement shares her commitment to shared governance and collaboration.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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