Senate struggles to deal with consequences of union negotiations, Kear says


The University Senate and Faculty Assembly continue to struggle with how to proceed on a variety of issues as the Union of Pitt Faculty and Pitt’s administration try to form their first collective bargaining agreement.

“We are continuing to work through the repercussions of direct dealing interpretation by the administration,” Senate President Robin Kear said at the Jan. 18 Faculty Assembly meeting.

A threat by the union in the fall to file unfair labor practices charges against Pitt has caused the administration to take a hard line on what it can discuss at shared governance meetings if any members of the bargaining unit are present. This has set off “a chain reaction of sorts,” Kear said.

One of the biggest impacts has been on policy development:

  • All members of the bargaining unit, which includes most faculty outside of the School of Medicine, have been removed from committees developing University policies related to any mandatory bargaining subjects. This includes work being done now on three policies: Travel advances; travel and business entertainment; and education benefits. Kear has appointed medical school faculty or others outside the bargaining unit, such as supervisors, to fill those positions.

  • Two policies that have recently made their way through shared governance and have been signed by the chancellor — tuition exchange scholarships and intergovernmental personnel act (IPA) assignments — will only cover faculty outside the bargaining unit. Any faculty in the bargaining unit who wants to pursue IPA opportunities will need to work with their supervisors until a collective bargaining agreement is reached. A recently passed relocation expenses policy also will fall into this category.

  • Still stalled are recommendations passed by the Senate in May 2022 on how community engaged scholarship and diversity, equity and inclusion should relate to tenure and promotion.

“This is not the situation that we want, as evidenced by our governance principles, but it is the situation that we are in,” Kear said. “If you’re in the bargaining unit and you have concerns about how these policies are applying to you, please communicate with your union leadership.”

Two Senate committees that are most impacted by the administration’s stance — Budget Policies and Faculty Affairs — have yet to schedule meetings for this semester. And at a meeting in December of the Budget Policies committee, after bargaining unit members left, only four others remained to hear a report on 2021-22 salaries, and the University Times was allowed to stay and report on the presentation.

Kear said she heard recently that Provost Ann Cudd sent a memo to deans saying that bargaining unit members should be removed from school-level planning and budgeting committees when budgets were being discussed.

“When I asked the provost if I could view the memo, I was told that it was an internal management document that was not intended to be shared with bargaining unit faculty members,” Kear said. “So this raises real concerns for me on how to accomplish the approved functioning for these PBCs that we had negotiated last spring. It raises concerns for me on how this will be implemented and how the unit-level PBCs will function, vote and discuss. It raises concerns for the entire planning and budget system that is in place to help ensure shared governance. However, if this is being implemented as a managerial function, I am not sure that the Budget Policies committee can provide the oversight.”

Strengthening the unit-level planning and budgeting committees under Pitt’s new budget model has been a priority for the Senate and the Budget Policies committee — which until last July was chaired by Tyler Bickford, who now leads the union’s bargaining committee.

In response to questions from the University Times, the provost said in an email: “Given that the University is currently in negotiations with the faculty union, we must follow a different process than we have in the past as it relates to the planning and budget committees. As you may know, the union has objected to the administration discussing matters that are subjects of mandatory bargaining with members of the bargaining unit via our shared governance structures. This is not our preference, but consistent with our legal obligations, we are amending our structure to allow for the budget discussions to proceed in a way that will not involve any direct dealing with bargaining unit faculty. Accordingly, we have shared information with the Council of Deans about necessary procedural changes to planning and budget committee meetings for this purpose.”

John Stoner, a teaching professor in the Dietrich School’s history department, said he was until last week an elected member of the school’s planning and budgeting committee, but received a letter from the dean removing him.

“It specifically says while the University and the faculty union continued negotiations to establish a bargaining agreement, discussions about detailed budget information and future budgetary projections or priorities will be limited to PBC members who are not members of the faculty bargaining,” Stoner said.

In the case of the Dietrich School, this would limit participation to department chairs and other supervisors.

Tom Songer, co-chair of the Faculty Affairs committee, said his committee is already hampered in what it can do, with only one faculty member, one staff and four students who can be present when administration representatives present information related to bargaining issues.

He’s worried that “if it’s not covered adequately in the collective bargaining agreement, that a precedent that’s been taking place right now could extend even after the agreement is in place that affects how we can talk about certain subjects within our committees. … It’s vitally important to have a collective bargaining agreement that recognizes the importance of shared governance, and has a role for the process of having elected governance as part of that process.”

There was no shortage of reaction from Faculty Assembly members to Kear’s report on how shared governance is currently working.

“About 14 months after the vote to unionize, we’re in worse position than we were prior,” said Chris Bonneau, immediate past president of the Senate. “We no longer have input into budgets and planning in our units, or University-wide. Our Faculty Affairs committee, which we set up to work on issues particularly for … appointment stream faculty, but not exclusively, we’re not having any kind of dialogue with the administration. … A lot of the processes and infrastructure we put into place over the past decade or so, have gone away.

“Right now, the faculty, in terms of representation, oversight and being able to hold the administration accountable and engage in the shared enterprise of running the University, we are significantly weakened. And that’s something that I hope is only temporary, but color me skeptical,” he said, noting that the Senate has no voice in the possible loss of eight faculty positions if the English Language Institute closes.

Kris Kanthak, Senate vice president, said she and the other Senate leaders are continuing to meet with union leadership, but “my sense is that there is not an appropriate level of understanding of the importance of shared governance to the members of the bargaining unit, or an understanding of how this may have effects on members of the bargaining unit.”

Stoner noted that, “The administration is also making choices about being very conservative regarding things like these PBC meetings and assuming an adversarial relationship. … Excluding bargaining unit members at a meeting that’s still covered by the UTimes, is effectively theater to me, since that’s still effectively public.”

He said he’s hopeful the negotiations will come up with the “best agreement to represent the rights and interests and protections of faculty. … But I also think it’s not one sided in terms of who determines the pace and and certainly all of the unintended consequences of how the University chooses to interpret certain things.”

“I think it’s pretty clear that the administration has out-strategized the folks who are bargaining with them,” Kanthak said. “This is a situation where the University is taking advantage of some unforced errors that union folks made that hopefully we can fix.”

Lorraine Denman, a teaching professor in the French & Italian department, pointed out that “There is a staggering amount of faculty that could vote for the union, who did vote for the union. A lot of people’s voices that may not be represented here on this particular Faculty Assembly who have concerns that made them vote in that direction.

“I wonder if we as a kind of organizational governing unit, if we could also try to tap into some of those concerns and see what we could be doing in our various committees,” she said. “I wonder sometimes if we’re being as proactive as we could be in collecting those people’s opinions, the people beyond this assembly.”

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


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