Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

April 14, 2005



Strike while the iron is hot

A few months ago, I wrote a column in this space critical of the old Pitt Club that had recently closed its doors, and suggested that a new and improved faculty club would be a good idea. Since then, the Board of Trustees has approved the purchase of the University Club building at a price of $3.1 million. Who knew that a “Senate Matters” column could have such a powerful and immediate effect?

But seriously, according to at least two sources, the administration is considering several potential uses of the facility, including a faculty club and a conference center. Assuming the building’s physical condition is satisfactory, it offers ample resources for either purpose (or both!): large-function rooms, kitchen facilities, a recreation facility and guest rooms.

In my earlier column, I proposed a faculty club and examined the issue in terms of “why, where and what” questions. As answers to the 3 Ws become more concrete, the “how” questions emerge: “How would it work financially?” “How would it be managed?” “How would it serve the Pitt faculty and staff?” and “How can the faculty have influence on the decision?” Let us consider the questions one at a time.

How would the club work financially?

Faculty clubs derive revenue from membership dues, catering, food services and, in some cases, institutional subsidies. A survey by the Texas A&M faculty club yielded some ballpark figures, but the survey results were based on incomplete data from only about 35 colleges and universities. The clubs in the survey have memberships, including faculty and staff, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. Total annual dues revenue typically is in the low six figures, and university subsidies are in the same range (some clubs receive no subsidy). Catering brings in more money, running over $500,000 a year in many cases. Restaurant and bar services account for the bulk of the annual revenue, generally bringing in over $2 million, and more than $3 million at many universities. The possibility of combining a faculty club with a conference center opens the door to novel approaches to sharing costs and resources. This combination has been instituted at just a few campuses, such as McGill University (

How would it be managed?

There are various management models for faculty clubs. A standard scenario begins with a business plan and provisional board of directors composed of faculty, staff and administrators. With legal and financial guidance, and with the ultimate approval of the university administration, the board defines the scope of the entity and its operation. Ultimately, I expect there would be a structure consisting of a full-time managerial staff overseen by a board of directors partly elected by the membership and partly appointed by Pitt’s administration.

How would a club serve Pitt faculty and staff?

The array of services provided by the club would be determined by the board of directors. At a minimum, a faculty club serves a lunchtime meal. In order to succeed, the food quality and price need to satisfy the expectations of potential members. Also, the atmosphere must be conducive to both spontaneous interactions and private meetings: for example, a large public area with buffet service and smaller private rooms with separate wait staff. Many faculty clubs offer evening meals, catering for private functions (such as retirement parties or even wedding receptions), and recreation/exercise facilities.

How can interested Pitt faculty and staff influence the decision?

I feel this question needs to be addressed even though I don’t have a good answer. Until recently, the best I had been able to come up with is to write “Senate Matters” columns. As of March 27, I have posted a questionnaire on the web to assess faculty and staff opinions: As the URL indicates, visitors to the site also have the ability to “sign” a petition supporting the establishment of a faculty/staff club facility.

With careful planning, a faculty club could have a significant impact on morale and communication across the fragments of the Pitt community. Of course, this directly translates to the University’s ability to attract and retain faculty, researchers, administrators and support staff. If faculty and staff personnel feel strongly about this issue, they need to make their voices heard.

(Editor’s note: Though the trustees have approved the purchase of the University Club, the purchase agreement included a 60-day inspection period before the deal is finalized. That 60-day period concludes at the end of this month.)

Paul Munro is an associate professor in the Department of Information Science and Telecommunications in the School of Information Sciences. He serves on Faculty Assembly and Senate Council and is a pro-tem member of the Senate’s plant utilization and planning committee.

Leave a Reply