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April 28, 2005

Faculty, staff voice support for club

More than 160 faculty and staff have signed a petition supporting the establishment of a faculty-staff club.

The dissolution of two clubs in Oakland spurred a campaign to re-establish a faculty-staff club. The Pitt Club, a University faculty and staff club, now defunct, served its last lunch in Gardner Steel Conference Center in late 2003. And Pitt has agreed to purchase the University Club, a private club that closed last year due to dwindling membership and increased debt.

Pending final inspections, Pitt will pay $3.1 million for the eight-story building on University Place that housed banquet and meeting rooms, 50 sleeping rooms, offices, a library, a recreation facility and an outdoor patio. The building also has a 50-space parking lot.

Pitt officials say they want input from faculty and staff for potential uses of the building but won’t formally explore options until the sale is final in early May.

Some faculty have suggested that the University establish a faculty club and/or a conference center in the building.

Paul Munro, an associate professor in the Department of Information Science and Telecommunications, has launched a web page ( to gauge interest in and garner support for a faculty-staff club. (See University Times April 14.)

Out of 328 faculty and staff who responded to the survey, about 45 percent say a faculty-staff club is needed; 43 percent say they support such a club. About 2 percent are opposed and the rest of the respondents described themselves as indifferent. When asked about monthly fees, responses were distributed over a wide range with a median of $5-$10 a month for a club that just served food and $20-$30 a month for a club with a health facility.

Munro said that response to his petition supporting a faculty-staff club has been greater than he expected. “The administration is aware of the questionnaire and I expect they will use it as data in their decision-making process,” he said.

Robert Pack, vice provost of academic planning and resources management, and Eli Shorak, associate vice chancellor of Business, addressed the purchase of the University Club at the April 18 Senate plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee meeting.

Both men stressed that whatever is housed in the former University Club, it should be financially self-sustaining. “The University does not intend to take on a building that does not support itself in some manner,” Shorak said. “The University bought this building because the price was right and the building is central to our campus.”

Pack told PUP that the costs of operating the building should not be “put off on students, tuition, faculty salaries and facilities — all the things that the E&G budget is for.” He added that the building might have different uses in the short run and the long run. “I think it’s important to make sure if you are holding it for some future use, during the interim period, it should pay for itself.”

Some PUP committee members voiced support for establishing a faculty club, conference center and perhaps a fitness facility in the building. Administration officials were non-committal.

“I think there are lots of activities that can occur there,” Pack said. “Part of what we’re trying to understand is what is needed in order to have those activities, what kinds of structures would be needed to have the kind of things you’d like to have there.” For example, the building lacks the infrastructure to support labs and has sleeping rooms that are small by current standards. At the very least, according to Shorak, the former club will have to be ADA compliant.

In considering the building’s use as a faculty-staff club, Pitt administrators have to consider how many employees might be interested and how much they would be willing to pay for membership, Shorak said.

Pack agreed that a club offers important social and professional opportunities for faculty and staff, but he noted that times have changed. Faculty clubs flourished in an era when there was a universal lunch break, Pack noted. Now faculty schedules are more varied in what days and times people are free, he said.

Another issue to consider is Pitt’s location in a city environment where hotels, restaurants and gyms are plentiful. A new facility such as a conference center with overnight accommodations or a fitness facility would need to provide services priced to compete with private businesses, Shorak said.

There would be advantages to having a conference center on campus, Pack acknowledged. But would enough University schools and departments use the facility to justify the costs? Would there be enough activity to support the necessary staff?

These are the kinds of questions the administration has to examine, Pack explained. “We’re looking at it and we are talking to the deans.”

—Mary Ann Thomas

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