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June 13, 2002

Students' use of 'The Pete' to determine non-student access

Whether access to recreation facilities at the Petersen Events Center will remain restricted to students — or whether faculty and staff will be allowed to exercise there, too — will depend on student usage during the center's first months of operation, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said this week.

In responding to Faculty Assembly's recent request that employees and students be granted equal access to work out at "The Pete," Nordenberg emphasized that students have first dibs on the center's recreation facilities. These include racquetball and squash courts, weight machines, a free-weight area, an aerobics area and a martial arts practice room.

But Nordenberg did not rule out extending access to employees, too, if a study of student usage shows that such a move would not cause overcrowding. At this point, no one can accurately predict how much students will use the new recreation center, the chancellor told Senate Council June 10.

"We've never had a facility like this one," he said. "We've never had a facility located at the crossroads, really, of major centers of student living on campus. We need to see what the demands will be and how usage can best be managed, which does require experience."

Nordenberg said Pitt administrators consulted with six other universities that recently opened new recreation centers. "When you look at the policies implemented at those institutions, the one thing you cannot find is an equal-access policy like the one that was the subject of the Faculty Assembly resolution," he said. "Instead, what you find are policies restricting use to students, imposing fees for faculty and staff use, and/or limiting faculty and staff use to designated hours during the day."

Within the last year, Pitt faculty and staff have gained equal access with students to recreation facilities in Bellefield Hall, Trees Hall and the Fitzgerald Field House, Nordenberg pointed out.

Economics professor Herbert Chesler, co-chairperson of the University Senate benefits and welfare committee that initially pushed for employee access to Petersen Center recreation facilities, said following the Senate Council meeting: "The Petersen Center is a major showpiece and a symbol of the University of Pittsburgh in the 21st century, much like the Cathedral of Learning was a symbol of the University in the 20th century. To deny faculty and staff open access to this facility is, I think, an insult to us.

"However, having said that, I am willing to grant our administration the benefit of the doubt. I hope that they will, indeed, maintain [records of student usage] so that if it becomes clear that the facility is not being utilized as extensively as they would like to see it being utilized, they will then say to the faculty and staff: 'There is room for you, too.' "And if the student utilization is so high as to cause congestion were faculty and staff afforded the opportunity to exercise there, then I can accept that decision," Chesler said. "The principal users of the building should be the students."

Barbara Mowery, president of the Staff Association Council told the University Times that SAC has not received complaints from staff about access to Petersen Center facilities.

— Bruce Steele

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