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March 16, 2000


I attended two functions at the University near the end of last month at which student academic performance was a major subject. The scholar-athlete honors luncheon on Feb. 26 was held by the Department of Athletics to recognize members of the University athletic teams who had earned grade-point averages of 3.0 or higher for at least one of the past two semesters. More than half of our student-athletes met that standard.

To some, the thought of student-athletes qualifying for recognition of academic achievement is foreign. They may be interested in the fact that some student-athletes achieved exceptionally high academic performance; 10 student-athletes had 4.0 grade-point averages for at least one of the past two semesters. When one takes into account the amount of time that student-athletes must devote to their sports — competition, practice, team meetings, time in the training room (which for some in need of rehabilitation can be very time-consuming) — achieving decent, or exceptional, grades requires of the student-athletes considerable devotion to their studies. Kelly Meyers, currently a graduate student in the School of Education, presided at the luncheon. She was a member of the volleyball team last year who had a 4.0 grade-point average last spring and received a major award at last year's honors convocation.

For me, the most interesting part of the program was the recognition given to Ron Brown's staff that provides academic support for the student-athletes. The athletes surprised the academic support staff by giving them gifts to show their appreciation for the staff's efforts. In short, they were honoring some of their "teachers" for helping them perform well academically.

On Feb. 28, I participated in the University honors convocation. There, faculty and alumni, as well as students, received recognition for their achievements. I was very impressed by the warm feelings for the University expressed by the undergraduate and graduate student representatives who responded on behalf of the honorees of their respective student groups, and by the three alumni honorees. All of them spoke about the place of the University in their lives, and the role of faculty in providing guidance and mentoring to assist them to achieve the high level of performance in school and/or success in their careers. As I heard those remarks I was reminded of similar expressions at the luncheon on Saturday, particularly when the students showed their gratitude for the assistance received from the academic counselors. It is reassuring to see evidence of how positively some of those who have gone through the academic mill feel about the University.

I have received a number of comments about the University's decision to go with UPMC Health Plan as the exclusive provider of broad health insurance products. The fact that the faculty and staff representatives to the medical advisory committee, of which I am one, unanimously recommended the decision appears to have made the decision more palatable than it otherwise would have been. Media articles about the University's decision and the Chancellor's Update mentioned that Highmark's bid wasn't competitive. I've received questions asking how UPMC Health Plan can meet its end of the bargain at the amount it is charging, if Highmark's bid was a good deal higher. No one can say for certain how UPMC Health Plan will perform, but faculty and staff should be assured that the members of the medical advisory committee and the University Senate benefits and welfare committee will be keeping their eyes and ears open for signs of failure by UPMC Health Plan to meet its obligations.

A reminder: The Senate's spring plenary session will be held at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, in the Physics Lecture Hall, 3rd floor, Masonic Temple. Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg is the keynote speaker; the topic is "Pitt in the Year 2000: Pursuing Our Full Potential."

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