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February 20, 2003


To the editor:

I was away during December, and missed the brouhaha over the Board of Trustees’ announcement of the chancellor’s salary and all its little perks. Before I left, I wrote to one of my old students that I would be in Oregon and he wrote back that he would be in the area and would come to see me. He did. We had lunch together and caught up on old times.

When I boarded the plane in Chicago for Pittsburgh, a woman got out of her seat and came over. “You’re Dr. Taube from Pitt,” she said, more as a statement than a question. “I had you for Mastering Point of View.” We talked about what she was doing.

When I got home, my recording machine had a message from another former student. I called back and we discussed a novel he is working on. He has called three or four times since, and we continue our discussion of his work.

I have read the articles and letters in a variety of University and non-University publications and, from what I can see, there seem to be two sides. One side says that the chancellor is wonderful, that he has made the University what it is, and he deserves everything he gets because “we” looked among his peers and found that he was underpaid. The other side — the student side — tries to make a connection between the 14 percent increase in student tuition and the 14 percent increase in the chancellor’s salary.

However, I would like to present a third side. I challenge what I perceive to be the board’s idea of the University. William Dietrich, chairman of the board, considers the work of the staff and faculty to be essential to the University. He is wrong. The faculty and the staff and the library and the students are the University. I have read terrible distortions of the history of Pitt: Chancellor Nordenberg did not make this a great University. If we look at the medical sciences, this University took a major leap forward when it brought Dr. Thomas Starzl and his team to UPMC. From there it was a logical growth into the areas that came from Dr. Starzl’s work: immune suppression, cancer, medical technology, etc. Improvements in other departments were taking place long before this chancellor took office. Please read the record. The work of the University takes place in classrooms, in the library and in the laboratories. I have never heard anyone say that the work of this — or any other university — takes place in the chancellor’s office or in the boardroom.

I have even read that Pitt is now a hot place to be — because of its wonderful athletic successes. This is praising vice as a virtue: Do it because it makes money. It has been documented that most athletic programs lose money. Worse, they distort the purpose, ideals, mission and ethical life of the University. Just to put it into language that even a member of the board should understand: Does it make sense for a coach to earn more money than the chancellor? I taught at Pitt for 35 years and I saw that if coaches aren’t fired because their teams are losing, then they leave when they think they’ve found Nirvana coaching elsewhere. What lesson does this teach?

So in my days of quiet retirement, I still enjoy my life with my students, and I enjoy their continuing reappearance into my life. It’s like having more children, of being an alma pater — and I’m sure many other faculty members have had similar experiences. I suspect that not one of our former students thinks that the chancellor, or any other administrator, had one iota to do with the courses they took at the University or the courses their lives have taken. The knowledge that these former students still consider me an important part of their lives gives me pleasure, and a stronger sense of where the true meaning of the University lies.

Myron Taube

Professor Emeritus

Department of English

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