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Pitt medical school to refine faculty policy

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 12:03 a.m.

Leaders at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School have agreed to grant professors a greater voice in decision making, following faculty complaints about potential salary cuts.

University officials haven't detailed their plans, but medical school professors said they hope to moderate what some have called a “draconian performance review” process.

Dr. Arthur Levine, dean of the medical school, sparked faculty concerns at his “State of the School” speech in May when he announced the medical school had set a school-wide goal of bringing in 75 percent of faculty salaries from research grants.

Levine previewed a new faculty performance evaluation that spells out quotas for faculty members to cover their salaries through a combination of teaching, research and patient care. He warned that those who failed to meet goals could be subject to salary reductions of up to 20 percent.

Faculty members are hoping to gain a greater voice on the executive committee that sets policy for the medical school. Elected faculty members hold three seats on the committee that is dominated by 31 medical school department heads.

“The faculty right now is outnumbered worse than Custer,” said Dr. Nicholas Bircher, a medical school professor and past president of the Pitt Faculty Senate.

Dr. Thomas Smitherman, the current faulty senate president who has been handling negotiations on faculty concerns, did not return a call for comment.

John Baker, a professor in Pitt's dental school, said faculty members were concerned that changes could put tenured faculty members at risk of salary cuts as pressure to maintain research funding grows in the face of federal budget reductions that have cut support for research nationwide.

Bircher said worries about how policies were changed was as much a concern as the financial ramifications of those changes.

Levine, who is weighing proposals to increase faculty input on medical school decisions, insisted there were no policy changes with regard to salary, only a refinement of performance evaluations “so as to be more fair both to the faculty member and the institution.”

“This has been done mainly in the interest of objective and fair assessment, but it also recognizes that the nation's economy, and our own, have constraints,” Levine said in an email.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. she can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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