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October 1, 1998


Now that we are well into the semester, I think it timely to mention and comment upon matters that are, in some sense, currently before the University Senate. My order in addressing them does not necessarily denote a view of their relative importance. The oversight committee of the School of Medicine faculty, with dogged persistence, has apparently gained the opportunity to represent faculty interests in connection with the content of University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP) documents that will affect the faculty (contracts and corporate bylaws), which are now in draft form. The oversight committee, elected by the faculty, came into being because of faculty concern that the University administration and the appointed medical school leadership were not effectively representing faculty interests in the negotiations with the UPMC Health System. UPP is the corporate subsidiary of the UPMC Health System that will become the employer of the medical school faculty clinicians, for at least part of their duties. While many details need to be worked out, and most people, particularly lawyers, recognize that the final steps in accommodating conflicting interests in documents can be extremely difficult, there are grounds for hope that resolution of the open issues will provide a reasonable degree of satisfaction to the faculty. Amendments to the University Senate bylaws have been approved by the necessary vote of the membership and are now in effect. All University Senate members were provided with copies of the bylaws, with the amended material indicated at the places where it would appear when adopted. The University Senate office does not plan to distribute a set of the revised bylaws to every Senate member. However, upon request of a Senate member, a copy of the amended bylaws will be provided by the University Senate office. The bylaws also can be found on the web at

The issue of employee health benefits already is being given serious attention. The current arrangements only run through June 30, 1999, so it is essential that planning and negotiation with potential providers of insurance begin soon. As usual, approaching the matter of health benefits is complicated by the fact that, regardless of the success of the University representatives in their negotiations with the insurers, the issue of how to allocate the University's employer contribution to the costs of the employees' health benefits, given that the costs of health benefits plans vary considerably, is always present.

In a prior column of mine in the July 23 University Times, I expressed the view that things were going fairly well at the University. I received several comments about my view from faculty members, one of whom took issue with my generally positive statement. This faculty member's concern was that, while I reported that SAT scores for entering freshmen have been increasing during the last several years, he maintained that, based on his experiences as an instructor, the students are not any better, in terms of their abilities, than prior students, even if their test scores are higher. While admittedly the comment is that of only one individual, I think it directs attention to the broader subject: the extent to which we can rely on facts such as increasingly higher standardized test scores, GPAs and placements in graduating classes, of entering students, to establish that the quality of the student population is improving. We need to exercise some care when seeking to draw meaningful conclusions from changes of the type just mentioned, if substantial members of the faculty believe that, based on their experience as instructors, student performance in class on a day-to-day basis is not any better, or perhaps even worse, than it was in recent years.

Finally, I want to mention that so far my interactions with members of the University administration have been positive, and I look forward to them continuing to be so. This is not to suggest that there is or will be total agreement on all issues, but I believe that the natural reluctance of University administration to negotiate on some matters of concern to faculty and staff may be overcome by its desire to avoid the almost frenzied situation created in the School of Medicine in early 1998.

Nathan Hershey, a professor of health services administration in the Graduate School of Public Health, is president of the University Senate.

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