Two faculty members first to serve as Provost Fellows

Laurel Roberts


Two Pitt faculty members have added a new title to their resumes — Provost Fellow.

Frits Pil, professor of organizations and entrepreneurship at the Katz Graduate School of Business, and Laurel Roberts, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, are the first two appointed to the new position.

Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, Development and Diversity, first approached former Provost Patricia Beeson three years ago with the idea of hiring an associate vice provost from the faculty to “help with all the things we’re doing, because we had really ramped up the faculty development offerings over the last five years. And it would be great to bring somebody in to help implement those programs and to sustain them.

“I also thought it would just be a great way to give more faculty exposure to what the Office of the Provost does. And it also helps the Office of the Provost be more connected to the faculty.”

in her own experience as a professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business, Kirsch said, “I knew relatively little about what the Office of the Provost did, and if you got an email (from the office), it was kind of like you were being called to the principal’s office.”

Doris Rubio, a professor of medicine, filled the role of associate vice provost for faculty for a couple years, but went back to the School of Medicine earlier this year.

After Rubio left the provost’s office, the idea of connecting with faculty morphed into the Provost Fellows, “which allows us to bring multiple faculty in from different parts of the University who have had different experiences themselves and to work with them to continue to strengthen the environment for all faculty,” Kirsch said.

A call was sent out this summer to all full-time faculty from all of Pitt’s campuses — from full, tenured professor to appointment-stream faculty to lecturers — to apply for the fellowships. The deans from all of Pitt’s schools were consulted and Kirsch said they were very supportive. “I think they see value too in that closer connection between their faculty and the Office of the Provost.”

The fellows, who are appointed for a year with a possibility of renewal, will spend about 40 percent of their time at the provost’s office, with the provost picking up 40 percent of their contract. For Pil, who started in the position in October, that means officially two days a week, but he’s often at the offices in the Cathedral of Learning more than that, he said.

Roberts will start in the provost’s office in January. Because she is an appointment-stream faculty member, it took longer for her department to make arrangements to cover her heavier course load.

The fellows have an office on the eighth floor of the Cathedral and will participate in the provost’s cabinet. Kirsch also wants to involve them in faculty actions that she and the other vice provosts review, such as appointments, re-appointments, promotion and tenure. In addition, they will each have specific projects that they’ll be shepherding.

Focus on faculty development

Pil said there are several of Provost Ann Cudd’s priorities that align with his own, including promoting diversity, strengthening research and teaching in the University, and “the use of data to improve the students’ experience but also to enhance our understanding of that experience.”

In his first month at the provost’s office, he’s noticed that the speed at which things get done is must faster than in individual departments. “And that’s important,” said Pil, who studies organizations. “If the center doesn’t work at a certain speed, everything else slows down.”

One of the initiatives Pil will be taking over is the faculty development workshops that meet the first Monday of the month during the academic year.

“One of the things I want to really be involved with here … is providing both our appointment-stream and our tenure-stream faculty opportunities to grow,” he said. “We’re here for decades, and it’s important that we have opportunities to enrich what we do, to grow and enhance how we think. The world is changing quickly, and just having opportunities for faculty to engage with those changes, to understand those changes, it’s critical.”

Workshops he has planned for the spring include one on graduate student mentoring and another on doing effective performance reviews geared toward faculty who are new to administrative roles. “I’d like to see ways in which we can formalize and structure pathways for faculty to enter into (leadership) roles. We don’t really have much on that front right now,” he said.

The last session he’s organizing is about helping faculty engage in student mental health issues. “The challenge is we have tremendous research in the University on this front, and we have faculty who are eager and willing to help students, but we don’t bridge those two,” Pil said. “What I’d love to see come out of it eventually is an FAQ of some sort on the provost’s website that faculty can turn to when they have questions, when they need advice, when they are facing students with specific concerns.”

A natural progression

Laurel Roberts has always been interested the “ecology of the university,” which has led her to participate in committees and super-departmental assignments, “where I get to see how other departments do things.”

She participated in the Women in Academic Leadership (WIN-AL) program last year, which led her to feel “that the University cared about my development as a leader. … I always said to people, ‘Well, I thought about administration but I love teaching, so if anybody ever came up with a way that I could teach and do other things, I would go for it.”

The Provost Fellow program was a perfect fit. Kirsch said she would like Roberts to get involved in mentoring resources for faculty outside the tenure stream and with the Center for Mentoring in the Center for Teaching and Learning. She also wants Roberts to take charge of the WIN-AL program.

“I think, close to my heart, would be encouraging lecturers and appointment-stream faculty to step out of the department to think bigger,” Roberts said, and particularly focusing on female faculty.

“I look at some of the faculty development programs that we’ve implemented and plans we have going forward and I think, I can’t do this without the Provost Fellows,” Kirsch said.

“It’s an opportunity I would have enjoyed myself, because it’s a way to put your foot in without making a lifelong commitment,” Kirsch said. “And getting exposure and having access to the provost … can be really appealing, and it’s a way to make a difference for the University.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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