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June 23, 2005


Pitt action on SAS questioned

(Editor’s note: The following letter, sent to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, is printed here at the author’s request. For Pitt administrators’ background on the Semester at Sea decision, see story beginning on page 1.)

Dear Mark,

Returning to Pittsburgh after a month abroad, I was surprised to learn of the decision to sever Pitt’s relationship with Semester at Sea. As the first academic dean from Pitt back in 1981 and the first Pitt administrative dean in 1989, as well as the chair of the faculty oversight committee from 1981 to 1991, I was shocked to see the 24-year relationship coming to what appeared to be an abrupt and rancorous end.

I read the letter that you and [Provost] Jim Maher sent to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but it only deepens my confusion and concern. Since ISE [Institute for Shipboard Education] remains basically under the same leadership that it has had since coming to Pitt, I do not understand how its values might have changed so significantly that Pitt would no longer have confidence in it. I was also concerned to see that apparently faculty input was absent in making this decision, which concerns, after all, an academic program.

I admit to my ignorance about what has happened, but I do want to express my deepest dismay at this turn of events. It marks the end of one of Pitt’s most innovative and truly educational undergraduate programs, one that many of us worked hard to make academically credible. Both Pitt students and faculty benefited richly from it over the years.

Not only has Pitt lost a valuable program, but I suspect that the future of Semester at Sea is also in question. The very negative publicity generated by this decision does not seem likely to inspire confidence in any institution thinking about taking on the program.

I wish that a happier resolution of whatever problems existed might have been reached. Together Pitt and ISE have overcome quite a few difficulties in the past quarter century, building a program together that we could be proud of.

Keith McDuffie

Professor Emeritus

Robert Hill, vice chancellor for Public Affairs, replies:

This letter responds to Dr. Keith McDuffie’s correspondence to Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. Since Dr. McDuffie has been abroad for the last month and did not attend the Senate Council meeting of June 13, I believe he will find this response helpful.

Although the concerns of the University of Pittsburgh that led to the termination of its relationship with the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) predated the serious incident at sea that occurred during the spring 2005 Semester at Sea voyage, as one might expect, both that incident and the subsequent course of dealings between all parties involved were factors important to the University.

In response to a formal request from the Senate officers, an extensive report on the concerns leading to the termination of the University’s long-term relationship with the Institute for Shipboard Education was provided by the provost at the June 13 Senate Council meeting. That report, which generated expressions of gratitude from those in attendance for its comprehensive and compelling nature, made clear that the termination decision was not abrupt but was regretfully made after many months of discussion failed to produce agreement on a range of academic, governance and safety-related concerns.


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