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May 16, 2002


For many readers the name Curt Flood will evoke no recognition. Flood was an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team who, in the early 1970s, challenged the reserve clause in baseball contracts. In essence, the reserve clause, present in the contract of every player in professional baseball, provided that the team holding the contract had exclusive right to the services of the player. The key element of the reserve clause was that, even when the contract term ended, the clause remained in effect. A player had no opportunity to play for any team except the one that held the reserve clause.

The United States Supreme Court ruled against Flood. He had sought the opportunity to negotiate with other teams for his services once his contract had ended. Although organized baseball was successful in the Flood litigation, it recognized that legislation to end its judicially created exemption from federal antitrust laws was a distinct possibility. Thus, collective bargaining with the players union and the presence of other factors put an end to the reserve clause and what is now called free agency came into being. Under the current scheme, a player can only be bound for a limited period of time; after that, a player, at the end of his contract, is entitled to strike a deal with the team that makes the best offer.

It is not surprising that, with free agency and teams bidding against each other to get the best players, a number of professional baseball players, individually, earn yearly salaries greater than the total yearly salaries of the full-time faculty members of over half the schools of this University. In the other major professional sports, such as football and basketball, forms of free agency exist. The reserve clause is now dead except to the extent such limitations are allowed by the collective bargaining agreements between the teams and the players' unions.

A few months ago the dean of the Graduate School of Public Health sent an e-mail to the GSPH faculty. It stated that he would not approve any faculty member's transfer request to join the faculty at another school within the University, and that the senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences would back him on his position. That meant that a GSPH faculty member interested in joining a department in another school could not do so. The reason for the dean's message was that he had received requests from GSPH faculty members seeking to transfer to the School of Medicine, apparently because its incentive compensation arrangement for principal investigators was far more generous that the one going into effect at GSPH. In essence, the GSPH dean was asserting an exclusive right-to-services within the University — a kind of reserve clause approach.

My purpose here is to raise some issues about faculty transfers between departments in a school, and from one school to another within the University, that I believe should be addressed by faculty and academic leadership. What reasons might faculty members have for seeking such a change apart from compensation? During my past service as vice president and president, and now as immediate past president, of the University Senate, a number of situations came to my attention in which a faculty member desired to leave a department and join another because of conflict with the leadership and/or colleagues within the department. Sometimes the clash appeared to be over resource matters, such as space. In other instances the faculty member, or a group of faculty members, in a department or school, believed they were in a conflict with the leader or a dominant group over academic or educational matters, or standards of professional performance, and that, in good conscience, they could not surrender their views. In either circumstance, unsatisfactory personal relationships developed.

Faculty members tend to have strong feelings about their discipline or profession. They often may see things differently in some respects from peers in their academic unit. This is not necessarily bad; a university is a place for the advocacy and exchange of ideas. The problem arises when the clash of ideas leads some to believe that they are being discriminated against by the unit's leadership because of the views they espouse and the way they perform their duties. Those who feel they are discriminated against sometimes request to join another unit within the University that is willing, if not eager, to have them.

How should a senior administrator assess a transfer request once it is rejected by the academic administrator below? Put aside specific questions about transfers of hard and soft money and other resources from one unit to another, and keep in mind that the faculty members seeking to move, and the resources they generate — research and/or clinical income — will be remaining in the University if the transfer takes place. The first consideration is whether the conflict can be toned down and harmony restored. The more skillful the senior administrator, and the more flexible the antagonists, the greater the likelihood that the atmosphere can be improved and mutual respect restored. Yet, there will be situations in which it is not achieved.

If the clash concerns professional standards or performance, it is unrealistic to expect a faculty member to comply with precepts with which he/she does not agree, when his/her position is accepted by a responsible segment of his/her profession or discipline. What purposes, academic or other, are served by a department head or dean demanding faculty conformity to his/her view, and denial of a requested transfer within the school or the University? Assuming these are capable and productive faculty, given the fact they would be welcome elsewhere in the University, it would seem to indicate that a "my way or the highway" stance of an academic administrator should not be supported by a senior administrator.

Finally, focusing on the many medical school faculty who have clinical responsibilities, note that they are also employees of University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP), a subsidiary of UPMC Health System. Thus they are subject to both their UPP contracts and University policies. Most of these faculty are untenured and have one-year contracts with both the UPP and the University. The UPP contracts of many faculty contain post-termination covenants that limit the physician, after leaving the University and termination of his/her UPP employment, from practice in Allegheny County and/or at many health facilities in the area for a year or more. The presence of these covenants, coupled with one-year faculty appointments, provides an opportunity for medical school administrators to exert enormous pressure in their dealings with faculty whose contracts contain such provisions, power that can be abused.

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