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March 8, 2001


University Senate Matters, Nathan Hershey

If you are a Pitt employee enrolled in the UPMC Health Plan's point-of-service product, you still may be encountering difficulties in connection with plan payment for certain services. I continue to receive communications indicating that faculty and staff remain frustrated and annoyed because of continuing difficulties. Recently I had a lengthy conversation with a UPMC Health Plan official and the impression I have is that some people at the Health Plan are recognizing better the points at which "things go wrong," leading to payment denials. I believe that there may well be changes under consideration that will simplify some of the processes, and reduce the burdens on plan members.

* In the Feb. 22 University Times, I presented my view of the quality of the presentations at the Feb. 15 plenary session on the "Open University," and expressed thoughts about bringing new thinking to issues within the University's purview. I have convinced Audrey Murrell, vice president of the University Senate and one of the speakers at the plenary session, to lead a task force, now being appointed, to build upon the groundwork laid at the plenary session.

I found some of the remarks of Dr. Frances Hesselbein, who was awarded an honorary doctorate of public and international affairs at the Feb. 28 honors convocation, and of Robert P. Colwell, one of those alumni presented with a Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award at the convocation, relevant to the objective of the task force. Their expressed thoughts about leadership and transformation of organizations are particularly worthy of attention, given the achievements for which they were honored. I don't know how far the task force's effort will progress in the next few months, but I believe it is worth beginning now.

* I'm sure that many of you have read newspaper articles dealing with the complaints of state Rep. John Lawless about a campus event called "Sex Faire" that was held last month at Penn State. Lawless found this student event objectionable on a variety of bases, including obscenity, and he widely expressed his view that the state appropriation to Penn State should be cut because its administration had permitted the event to take place. Lawless's attack on Penn State, and his view that the state appropriation should be used to influence Penn State in the future with respect to campus activities, has been the subject of considerable comment in the media. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in a Feb. 27 article about the Lawless complaints and rebuttals to his views by Penn State faculty members, said: Ridge yesterday scoffed at Lawless' "self-aggrandizing and sensationalist tactics…exploiting the predictable media focus on such matters," but urged Spanier [Penn State president] not to be confrontational with lawmakers because Lawless does have a point. A little further in the article the following appeared: Ridge said the state would not cut off state money to the university over the controversy, as Lawless has sought.

Almost everyone in the academic world would agree that state appropriations to public institutions should not be held hostage because of events taking place on a campus, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. I hope that Gov. Ridge's view that the events complained of by Rep. Lawless do not merit any attack on Penn State's appropriation would extend to another context, to wit: that any decision by the University of Pittsburgh to provide health benefits to same-sex partners of their employees also would not justify adverse action by the state with respect to Pitt's state appropriation.

* Within the coming few weeks, the ballots for Senate officers and members of the Faculty Assembly will be distributed. Ballots must be returned to the Senate office by April 20. I urge all members of the University Senate, once the ballots and the accompanying information provided by the candidates arrive, to take a few minutes to read the information carefully. Keep in mind that all candidates for Faculty Assembly that a Senate member may vote for are faculty members of the member's own unit. Therefore, faculty have an excellent opportunity, if they don't know one or more candidates well, to learn a good deal about them by talking to the candidates themselves and to their colleagues.

*Reminder: The spring plenary session of the University Senate will be held on March 21 at 3 p.m. in the Assembly Room, William Pitt Union. The topic is "The University in Civic Engagement: Service in the University's Mission." I hope a large number of members of the University community will attend.

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