In her last visit March 13 to Faculty Assembly as provost and senior vice chancellor, Patricia E. Beeson presented an update on recent developments at the University.
“I think that we’ve accomplished great things. I think we’ve advanced the University over the past eight years, and it couldn’t have happened without the collegial relationship that has developed between the Faculty Assembly and the Senate and the University administration,” she said.
Cindy Tananis, secretary of the University Senate and a faculty member in the School of Education, shared her appreciation for Beeson establishing appearances at Faculty Assembly meetings.
"I’m very hopeful that we can continue that with the new provost,” said Tananis. “I think there’s a lot of benefit in having that kind of open communication and summary and ability to communicate.”
Beeson mentioned the Board of Trustees’ approval of a plan for converting the Pitt–Titusville campus into a higher educational hub at the board’s Feb. 23 meeting.
“We are hopeful that this is going to serve as a new model for the types of education that can be offered in a low-density, rural area where a single institution on its own can’t achieve the scale that’s needed to be financially viable,” she said.
She referenced the University’s budget “stress tests,” which received coverage in a Feb. 23 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that described that Pitt administrators have needed to evaluate the impacts on the institution should state funding continue its historical decline or cease. Beeson reassured members of Faculty Assembly that Pitt has “no intention of going private.”
“It wouldn’t be fiscally responsible of the University not to test our budget model under a variety of circumstances and to make sure that what we do at the University is consistent with the long-term trend that we observe, which is that the commonwealth funding has been flat and declining in real terms,” she said.
Beeson asserted Pitt’s commitment to the goals outlined in “The Plan for Pitt,” the University’s strategic plan: “We concluded that for the University to remain competitive in the markets that we reach, we need to continue to advance the quality of the University.”
According to Beeson, the University has seen increases in overall applications for admission, applications from minorities and applicants’ average test scores.
She spoke about competitive grant competitions intended to encourage innovation in teaching, including Course Incubator Grants and the Personalized Education Grants.
Beeson lauded Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Pamela Connelly and Division of Student Affairs staff members, who have spearheaded programming for students aimed at encouraging free expression. Faculty members can learn how to cultivate an inclusive environment in their classrooms through programming by the University Center for Teaching and Learning, said Beeson.
She recognized growth in the Counseling Center’s “mental health capacity,” which was addressed in coverage of the Senate student admissions, aid and affairs committee in the March 8 edition of the University Times.
Beeson shared findings from her office’s analysis of stipends for graduate students over the past five years. Stipend increases outpaced inflation by twice the rate, but graduate student stipends at Pitt were below the stipends of graduate students at some Association of American Universities peers, she said. The University dedicated resources this past year toward correcting that issue, said Beeson, and most schools have implemented an ombudsman. Ombudsmen can facilitate student grievances.
She also reflected on progress and areas needing improvement that were shown in studies of faculty pay and gender equity. Those studies were covered in the Jan. 11, 2018, edition and April 27, 2017, edition, respectively, of the University Times.
New Visitor Policy
Faculty Assembly approved a motion to pass the new visitor participation agreement for academic visitors. The agreement is part of a new academic visitor policy, said Michael Spring, immediate past president of Senate Council and a Senate liaison on the Senate research committee, where the motion originated. The policy is an update of previous guidance, said Allen DiPalma, director of Pitt’s Office of Export Controls Services.
The agreement does not apply to visitors with stays of less than 14 days, unless there is work in a clinical or laboratory setting.
In other business, Faculty Assembly approved a motion to rename the Senate athletics committee as the Senate athletics and recreation committee to reflect the committee’s revised mission statement, which conveys the committee’s work with regard to the needs of the Pitt community.