As Faculty Consultative Committee chair, nearly every big decision at the University of Minnesota seems to have Amy Pittenger’s involvement.
Pittenger, in her 15th year as a professor in the College of Pharmacy, recently served on committees that landed Joan Gabel as 17th University president and facilitated the presidential transition. She co-chaired the committee that narrowed down candidates to be the next provost.
She also leads, what some say, is the most influential governance committee on campus. Former FCC chairs said the role is demanding — 15 to 20 extra hours of work a week by some accounts.
But Pittenger said she is not special.
“I really am not an exceptional example, I’m really not,” Pittenger said.
What is “special” to her is the University’s culture of shared governance.
The University’s tradition of robust shared governance is seen as a model for other institutions. Michigan State University colleagues told Pittenger they attributed a lack of strong shared governance as a reason why the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal did not come to light earlier.
“I think that just emphasizes why shared governance is so important,” Pittenger said.
While Pittenger does not have much power, the FCC chair has influence.
She credits much of that influence to her predecessors and relationships they forged with University administration and the Board of Regents.
“Consultation doesn’t mean they are going to do what you say, but they’re definitely going to listen to what you think,” said Colin Campbell, a former FCC chair.
The FCC chair meets regularly with the president and provost and has both formal and informal meetings with regents, allowing them to gain insight into how they think about the University.
Still, they do not always consult with faculty about every issue.
Pittenger cited the decision by the University to close the Child Development Center as a time when faculty were not consulted initially. Amid backlash to the decision from the University community, a committee co-chaired by Pittenger formed and delivered a report that significantly influenced the next steps — not shuttering the center and expanding child care on campus.
“That’s attributed to the administration trusting our voice and saying, ‘no, we need shared governance in this,’” Pittenger said.
Many of her peers say Pittenger is reflective and thoughtful in how she deals with issues. They say her kind demeanor and strong will make her a great advocate.
“I get the impression that she is really closely connected to the student experience at the University and really wants to ensure that is going in the right direction,” said Noelle Noonan, chair of the Professional and Administrative Consultative Committee.
Joe Konstan, a former FCC chair, emphasized taking on the role’s responsibility significantly adds to a professor's workload. To Pittenger, it is just part of the job.
“In some ways, this is nothing,” Pittenger said, who holds pharmacy degrees from both the Twin Cities and Morris campuses and a master’s in clinical science from the University of Pittsburgh.
She compared this past year as FCC chair to when she returned to the University in 2005 to do educational design research. After speaking with faculty in the College of Education and Human Development about teaching methodologies to inform her research, one thing was clear to Pittenger: “I knew nothing about it.”
As a full-time faculty member and mother of a young child, she enrolled in a learning technologies Ph.D. program.
“I don’t even know how I survived it,” Pittenger said.
The additional work of being FCC chair is not for everybody. Konstan said while many professors could do the job, it takes time to understand the governance system and have respect among their peers.
“You’ve got to be a successful teacher and a successful researcher first,” Konstan said. “But if all you care about is being a successful teacher and researcher, you’ll never be willing to make the sacrifice to get this role.”
For Pittenger, students are her motivation.
“It’s hard for me to separate students from faculty in some ways,” Pittenger said. “It’s about trying to make the University have a positive influence.”