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February 19, 1998


To the editor:

The Early Retirement Plan for Tenured Faculty, according to some of my colleagues, is essential to "the intellectual renewal of the University's Faculty."

I suppose this means that older faculty members are losing their grip and that prospective (untenured and disposable) younger faculty would be more acute if not better educated. The concern with "intellectual renewal" brings to mind my niece, Professor Kit Newcomer-Foyle, who, after an undergraduate stint (English, Duke) attended Terra Nova U. (Northwest Territories) where she earned her Ph.D. in Critical Studies. The title of her undoubtedly brilliant dissertation is, Rex Morgan, M.D., Text and Sub-text: Semiotic indices in a phallus-centric cartoon as a metaphor of gender and political power differentials in Western culture. My niece's potential contribution to intellectual renewal was quickly recognized by Dr. Newbroom, the Provost of Cosmos University, who appointed her Acting Chair of the Integrative Critical Studies Program at Cosmos.

A recent letter from Kit is enthusiastic about the Board's approval of Provost Newbroom's five-year plan for a "Program of Organization Excellence." In a single stroke, through acting appointments to newly-created "responsibility units," the slow ingrown promotion and tenure committees, dominated by older professors, have been bypassed while substantially reducing Cosmo University's long-term commitments to its "knowledge workers." (I think "knowledge workers" is a reference to faculty.)

Kit quotes Provost New-broom: "The resulting flexibility in personnel management practices and the anticipated reduction in salaries and fringe benefits are expected to permit us to reallocate resources to meet the educational demands of our consumers." (I think "consumers" is a reference to students.) Provost Newbroom, Kit said, identified a "list of priorities responsive to consumer demands" following his attendance at a Retreat with other administrators of major universities.

Kit enclosed an article, from The Cosmos Courier, on the Provost's List. The List included

(1) "a new complex of Internet-ready dormitories based on an extension of the University of Pittsburgh's famous International Rooms concept with special regard for the needs of oppressed people,"

(2) a new student union complex "to meet necessary and extensive consumer recreational needs including a controlled-access bar" which is intended, Kit explained, to limit alcohol abuse,

(3) a multimedia study center where consumers could review videotapes of instructors' lectures in the event that attendance at scheduled classes interfered with their personal needs, and

(4) "a center for social justice where consumers can be sensitized to each other's collective identities" through a variety of events and specialized required instruction. The list continued but the first four items are sufficient to reveal the quality of its substance.

I telephoned Kit to ask about the curriculum and she promised to send me the Cosmos Bulletin. She remarked, "While formal curricula are important, we feel that opportunities for [student] interaction and mutual education are as important as formal curricula in producing well-rounded and committed persons. Those opportunities also level the playing field by reducing the power differential between knowledge workers and consumers." I am in awe of the intellectual renewal that Cosmos is promoting. Perhaps the rationales and structures that have been developed at Cosmos to achieve its renaissance can be profitably applied to the University of Pittsburgh, under the direction of the Board and with the leadership of Pitt's vigorous Administration. Faculty recommendations, if they are solicited, could be safely ignored. More important than educational structure is recruitment of newly-minted academics like my niece. You can't have too many Foyles.

Arden E. Melzer

Professor School of Social Work

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