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May 30, 2002


The tenure and academic freedom committee of the University Senate presented a resolution at the November Senate Council meeting recommending that changes be made in the University's indemnification policy. The substance of the recommendation was that the policy be modified to provide indemnification to University employees who had been exonerated of charges of research misconduct. Indemnification in this context would mean reimbursement for legal expenses in connection with defending oneself against the charges. At that time the maximum that an employee could be indemnified for such expenses was $15,000. The chancellor agreed to the amendment to the policy granting indemnification in the described circumstances.

Several months after the chancellor agreed to the change in policy, Faculty Assembly adopted a resolution recommending that the limit on indemnification be raised to $30,000. A few weeks ago that change also was approved by the chancellor. Both of these actions, proposed through University Senate channels, demonstrate a welcomed responsiveness by the administration to proposals made on behalf of faculty and staff.

As a member of AARP, I receive the magazine Modern Maturity every two months. I rarely read it, but a recent issue caught my eye because its lead story listed the top 50 hospitals in the nation. I looked at the criteria used for the ranking of the hospitals because I have looked at rankings of academic institutions and have been concerned about the criteria used in the ranking process. The measures selected for use in any ranking process are critical to the results. The ratings for the report in Modern Maturity were compiled by a nonprofit consumer education organization, which used the criteria of medical and surgical mortality, ratings by physicians, the score given by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and some others.

Turning to the list itself, I noted with great pleasure that the hospital ranked second is Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The chief executive of Cedars-Sinai is Tom Priselac, a graduate of the health administration program at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. I got to know Tom pretty well while he was a student. He was one of the leaders in a group of students that I often joined to play basketball once a week. After Tom completed the program in 1975, he worked for a while at Montefiore Hospital here. He then went to seek, and obtain, fame and fortune in Los Angeles.

As I scanned the list further, I noticed that Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City ranked 16th. The chief executive at Lenox Hill is Gladys George, a former student in the program I created in the early 1970s for lawyers interested in working in the health field. After Gladys obtained her Master of Science in Hygiene degree from GSPH, she encountered some difficulty finding a position as house counsel in a hospital. I had maintained contact with one of our prominent alumni, Dave Reed, who was then the chief executive of Lenox Hill. He eventually saw the benefits to be gained by having counsel in house and hired Gladys. She became chief executive about 10 years ago.

While I did not study the list, I would not be surprised if GSPH is the only academic institution that can claim more than one of the chief executives of the top 16 institutions as alumni. Tom and Gladys were both students in the same GSPH department.

For those who are wondering, the local hospital with the highest ranking is Allegheny General Hospital, at 21st.

The long-awaited report of the Special Committee on Domestic Partner Health Insurance Benefits was distributed by the chancellor to the University community on May 9. Many members of the University community were disappointed by the committee's recommendations that Pitt should work cooperatively with other state-related universities for a solution to this benefits issue, but should not move unilaterally to offer such benefits because of possible confrontation with the legislature and loss of financial aid from the state.

I believe that the most important issue involved with the health benefits is not the granting of the benefits themselves, as important as that subject is, but the extent to which a state legislature can dictate to a university, through its exercise of the "power of the purse," the positions its board and administration can take in directing and managing the institution. The threat that the committee recognized is certainly a serious one.

Let me pose a hypothetical: Assume that the majority of the Pennsylvania legislature did not believe that universities should provide military training. Further, assume that this position then led the legislature to threaten that, if the University continued to have ROTC, it would impose a financial penalty. I wonder whether those state legislators, today actively opposing domestic partners benefits, would think it improper for the legislature to use threats about finances to force the University to end ROTC. My guess is they have never thought about the shoe being on the other foot, and that a majority with a position contrary to one they hold might seek to influence the University by holding part or all of the state appropriation hostage.

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