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March 2, 2000


A vote against new University computing plan

To the editor:

I read, with interest, the University Times (Jan. 20, 2000) story on the draft of the new $9.6 million computing plan. While I was glad to find that the University admitted the inadequacy of its present level of computer resources, I was troubled to find that it was proposing that faculty pay an Internet provider a monthly fee for "better service." In the article, it was mentioned that those faculty members who "only use [remote modem access] for e-mail" will still be able to use the free Pitt service. Furthermore, it was stated that once high-level users exited from the old system for improved service (at a fee), it was anticipated that free service would improve.

I have various objections to and reservations about this plan: 1) It is clear that faculty who "only" use remote computer access for e-mail are thought to be non-essential users (as opposed to those who use it for accessing complex research data bases, etc.). Thus, it is assumed that such faculty can "make do" with free and inferior access. This is entirely untrue. Even if one "only" uses remote connection for e-mail, this now includes access to University memos; departmental memos; notices for lectures and grants; correspondence with students; work on national committees; notice of national conferences, calls for papers, etc. At present, I often cannot hook up to the Pitt server anytime after 3 p.m. on weekdays and almost all of the weekend when student use is, evidently, high. This past week, in fact, I had problems with remote connection as early as 9 a.m. Accordingly, I cannot get timely access to receive and transmit professional messages of the type I have indicated.

2) If certain users (many of whom have grant accounts to pay for a fee-for-service access) abandon Pitt's free server, it will not improve. It will become the "orphan" system for those who are perceived to be "unserious" users or not to care. What motivation will there be for the University to improve its free service when it is in the University's fiscal interest that faculty members opt to pay for service out of their own funds? Complaints in the past have fallen upon deaf ears.

3) Requiring the faculty to pay for decent remote computer access is outrageous. I would say that 99 percent of my use is entirely professional (for University memos, student contact, access to PittCAT, web research, book orders, etc.). Why should I pay a fee to do my essential University-related work? Basically, the imposition of such a fee will amount to a pay cut (at a University whose salaries barely make the AAU median level). Beyond its impact on the present faculty, how will this system appear to candidates whom we are attempting to recruit? Pitt fails already to be competitive in a variety of areas (e.g. faculty research grants, travel monies, etc.).

4) When, some years back, FAS decided to cut back the number of its tenured, full-time lines through attrition, the faculty was assured that this would result in additional resources for those faculty who remained (for travel, research, facilities, technical support, etc.). Now, following such faculty cuts, we find that one of the first moves the University plans involves suggesting that the faculty pay an additional fee for something that it should receive gratis. Is that the kind of "improvement" we can count on in the future?

5) Relating to point No. 4, the article also states that, as part of the new technology plan, each University "unit" will have to "budget an amount to be used as the source of funds for computer hardware and software acquisition for tenure and tenure-stream faculty." Were those costs always charged to these "units"? If not, does this not represent yet another new expense that will limit the promised funds for improved faculty and programmatic resources?

If this two-tiered plan is instituted, I do not plan to pay for "improved service." I will use the extant system and anticipate that, as a result, I will be unable to receive and respond, in a timely fashion, to communications from University administrators, colleagues and students.

Lucy Fischer


Department of English



Film Studies Program

Provost James V. Maher responds: We are very sympathetic to the anxiety that Professor Fischer expressed in her letter. Her suggestion, like most of the suggestions elicited by the draft technology plan, really argues that we should reallocate even more funds from other uses than the plan envisions. However, it is important that everyone realizes that we are one of the nation's leading universities in the number of dial-up ports offered free to faculty, staff and students and that the bulk of the expenses in the draft technology plan are really directed to other important areas of computing and information technology, where we are not currently playing enough of a leading role.


Not all anger is destructive

To the editor:

The University community is indebted to Peter Hart for his comprehensive and lucid coverage (University Times, Feb. 17, 2000) of anger in the workplace, and especially to Clifford Cohen, an employee assistance program specialist at Pitt's Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, for his useful compilation of ideas and concepts, as characterized by Hart, dealing with employee anger.

There are, however, two elements in the foregoing account whose misleading implications must not go unchallenged. The first is the sickening politically correct notion that all anger should be converted into a "be nice" demeanor. What garbage! What nonsense! Some anger is desirable and constructive. ("I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!") Anger can be the precursor of desirable change, change in office procedures, change in manufacturing operations, change in the distribution of goods and services, and thus it behooves enlightened management to distinguish between potentially useful anger and the kind that Cohen warns is dysfunctional for the employee and the organization.

Let us not throw away the baby (useful anger) with the dirty bath water (harmful anger). Let us not fall into the trap of believing that organizational climate should be universally sugar-coated sweetness and light.

Next, I take strong exception to Cohen's assertion that "you are hired to do a job, not to be a whole person." Of course you were hired to do a job, but you were not hired as a "partial person" or a "fractional person."

By definition you can only be hired as who you are, a total person. Persons on the job bring with them their full panoply of values, problems, lifestyles and personalities, and not only the special skills specified by their job descriptions. Employers take cognizance of this in today's modern management environment by enacting policies which recognize individual differences and respect the requests by employees for "quality time," which employees value greatly. For example, unlike yesterday's employees, today's employees balk, sometimes ferociously, at being transferred to a company's branch office hundreds of miles away from their children's high school due to the child's insistence on attending high school at home rather than as a transfer student in a virtually foreign school environment. Similarly, when a person goes home in the evening from the job he or she is a person, bringing with him or her the anxieties, concerns, disappointments, and job fulfillments from 9-to-5 workplace settings.

Other than these two demurrals, Mr. Cohen's views on anger in the workplace and the palliatives he offers deserve to be taken seriously.

Robert Perloff

Emeritus Professor

Katz Graduate School

of Business

Clifford Cohen, EAP specialist with the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, responds: I appreciate the chance to respond to Dr. Perloff's letter regarding the article written by Peter Hart, who attended a presentation I made regarding the important topic of workplace anger. I am sorry that Dr. Perloff wasn't in attendance, and could only react to the article, as the topic is a very debatable, arguable and complicated one. This was a point made numerous times during the talk. I agree with him that anger plays an important role in the workplace, and should not be ignored. If he had been present for the two hours, he would have heard me state that drawing bottom lines, and even making ultimatums with management for a myriad of reasons, have their place. But employees need to be careful of reactive anger, and not be oblivious or unprepared for possible repercussions. I'm not so simplistically suggesting that employees just "be nice," but rather that they put some thought into the confrontation. I have urged more employees to talk to management about their dissatisfaction than I have recommended that they just stew in silence. Employees are often too intimidated by their supervisors. I agree with Dr. Perloff that it is important to distinguish useful anger from harmful anger. Some ability to reflect on your anger, to not always react impetuously, is a good way to discern the difference, and to then decide upon a course of action.

A point that I was trying to make in my talk regarding a company not hiring a whole person, is the reality that our coworkers, even if we respect and like them, may see a facade of our total being. This is not necessarily a negative. An emotionally intelligent adult is able to manage the intricacies of relationships, and does not necessarily reveal the same self to the workplace as one does to intimates. I certainly agree with Dr. Perloff that, hopefully, employees return home and are able to present their "total" person.

A final comment is that I am not so certain that "yesterday's employees" were any less likely to "balk" when unhappy with their jobs. A cursory review of American labor history reveals that yesterday's employees could balk ferociously! If Andrew Carnegie were alive, he would attest to that fact.


Roth welcomes Pitt employees to UPMC Health Plan

To the editor:

I am writing this letter in the wake of the decision by the University of Pittsburgh to use the UPMC Health Plan as the sole health insurance company for its faculty and staff. In my role as associate senior vice chancellor, Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, and senior vice President, Medical Services, UPMC Health System, I welcome you.

I view this decision as a very positive change. The UPMC Health Plan will offer three options: an HMO, a Point-of-Service (POS) and a Comprehensive Plan. The UPMC Health Plan HMO option has very different features from other HMOs. It was begun by hospitals and physicians who believe that the traditional "1-800-I-am-a-clerk and service is denied" role of the typical insurance company is obstructing the care delivered to members. These decisions are best made by the patient and physician, without interference by an individual who never has and never will meet the patient. To help physicians care for their patients in the most up-to-date and effective manner, the UPMC Health Plan views its role as one of providing the physician with data concerning best practices, and then helping these physicians integrate such practices into their day-to-day work. Direct access to specialists at a modest co-payment is also permitted under the HMO option.

To accomplish this close working relationship, it is necessary for the UPMC Health Plan HMO option to include only certain physicians and hospitals; too many would have impaired the ability to develop the collaborative partnership described above. Nevertheless, the HMO option includes more than 1,200 primary care physicians, 2,600 specialists of whom 183 are obstetricians/gynecologists, and 46 hospitals. One of the hospitals included in the plan is UPMC Presbyterian, which is ranked as the 12th best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report. UPMC Presbyterian's international reputation for innovation and quality medical research stems in part from the fact that the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine ranks among the top 10 universities in grant funding by the National Institutes of Health. University faculty M.D.s, as well as other outstanding M.D.s from all of southwestern Pennsylvania are available to treat UPMC Health Plan members.

The UPMC Health Plan ranks member service No. 1 on its list of goals. It strives to be the most responsive, customer-friendly company it can be and prides itself on receptiveness to the input of both members and providers. Additionally, the Health Plan has frequently adapted its policies and procedures on the basis of input from both members and providers. As a result, it ranked first among all local health plans in member satisfaction.

Given the above factors, I am pleased to report that the UPMC Health Plan has become the fastest growing health insurance company in the region, which has demonstrated financial viability and stability, along with high member and provider satisfaction.

I welcome you, as well as your suggestions about how the UPMC Health Plan can even further improve upon care delivery to its members.

Loren H. Roth

Associate Senior

Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences

University of Pittsburgh


Senior Vice President, Medical Services

UPMC Health System

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