Facing complaints that medical professors lack adequate voice in school decision-making, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine dean Arthur Levine met privately with campuswide faculty leaders and accepted proposals to bolster shared governance, one of the participants said.
Dr. Levine had no immediate comment on the session with University Senate president Thomas Smitherman and immediate past Senate president Michael Pinsky.
But in an interview Thursday, Dr. Smitherman said the dean accepted proposals to both increase faculty membership on the school's primary policy-making body -- its executive committee -- and to reinstitute three yearly faculty meetings during which substantive issues can be aired.
Dr. Smitherman said Dr. Levine also is considering a recommendation to create a faculty advisory panel to the dean.
Word of the changes emerged Thursday as a controversy roiling the medical school -- a modification in the job performance criteria for medical researchers -- played out in dueling letters appearing in the Pitt-published University Times newspaper.
A letter submitted by Pitt's chapter of the American Association of University Professors described the revised evaluations as "an attack on the principle of tenure," under which non-clinical faculty could see yearly salary cuts of up to 20 percent if not enough of their compensation is covered by outside research grants.
Dr. Levine's letter described his approach as reasonable.
"The amount of money available to the school of medicine for faculty compensation is finite, and that finite amount is now severely constrained by both federal-level budgetary sequestration and by anticipated reductions in clinical revenue under the [federal] Affordable Care Act," he wrote.
Dr. Levine has set a goal that 75 percent of research costs schoolwide be covered by outside funding.
Word that a meeting with Dr. Levine had taken place last week first surfaced at Wednesday's Senate Council meeting. Without elaborating, Dr. Smitherman told the body that Dr. Levine had accepted some ideas intended to give more tangible evidence of shared medical school governance.
He said faculty input has been an off-and-on issue for at least a decade, but an increase of late in the number and intensity of concerns led he and Dr. Pinsky to conclude "we're likely at a tipping point."
In Thursday's interview, Dr. Smitherman attributed the uptick to financial uncertainty facing the school. He said when times are difficult, "faculty get very concerned if mechanisms are not in place" to give them a voice.
Critics of the revised researcher evaluation say its design could allow administrators to target unpopular tenured faculty by setting unrealistic goals for grant income and then cutting their salary each year they fall short.
Dr. Smitherman has said he believes the changes are actually modest and consistent with medical school policies and would have been "a much easier sell" if there was a better system for drawing in faculty voices.
A medical school spokeswoman said 18 of the executive committee's 21 members are administrators. It's unclear how many faculty will be added.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.