Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 25, 2000


Pitt should work to overcome obstacles to same-sex benefits

To the editor:

I write in response to Ken Service's reply to the letter from Mark Friedman on the topic of same-sex health benefits published in the May 11, 2000, issue of the University Times. It seems that all substantive exchange on this important issue takes place in the University Times. Since that appears to be the most effective way to keep the dialogue going, I want to add my two cents' worth.

1) Mr. Service states that the recent court ruling clearly upholds the University's position that its health benefits plan is "legal and non-discriminatory." There is no debate that Judge Gallo's ruling upholds the legality of the University's position. However, I am at a loss to understand how this position can be defined as non-discriminatory. It is obvious that employees who are not able to obtain a benefit for a family member for no reason other than their sexual orientation are the victims of discrimination. I can appreciate the argument that this benefit is tied to legal marriage. But if marriage is not a legal option and a couple is in a committed relationship, withholding the benefit is clearly discriminatory.

2) Mr. Service refers to public statements by state legislators that, should the University provide these benefits, "appropriations might be withheld." This is not an inconsequential concern, but it is not an inevitable outcome. Professor Nathan Her-shey, University Senate president, in a Post-Gazette guest editorial (Nov. 15, 1999) suggested that, "Perhaps if Pitt took the lead, Penn State and Temple might follow," and he goes on to consider what the consequences to the state's and the governor's reputation would be should they withhold funds from all state-related universities. If the University of Pittsburgh wants to adhere to a policy of inclusion and non-discrimination, it should take the more honorable path of challenging this threat rather than hiding behind it as an excuse for withholding this benefit.

3) Finally, Mr. Service states that only 5 percent of the nation's colleges and universities offer same-sex benefits and that "perhaps even more significantly, the majority of the Association of American Universities, Pitt's primary peer group, do not offer same-sex benefits." In fact, 34 (56 percent) of the 60 members of the AAU appear on a listing of colleges and universities offering same-sex benefits (including health benefits) published by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Contrary to Mr. Service's assertion that most of the universities offering these benefits are private institutions, at least 15 (44 percent) are state or state-related. This information is available at

I write this letter in part to comment on statements made by Mr. Service in reply to Mr. Friedman's letter. I also wish to reiterate the concern, expressed repeatedly in this column over the last few years, that the University of Pittsburgh's administration and Board of Trustees continues to resist any consideration of a change in the current policy. Many of us believe that the statement of non-discrimination contained in the University's mission statement, pure and simple, deserves as much weight as an overwrought exclusionary definition of eligibility and the fear of legislative retaliation. If, as a university community, we truly believe in non-discrimination, we should be willing to show some spirit and initiative in overcoming these obstacles.

Anne R. Medsger

Senior Research Associate

Department of Health Services Administration

Graduate School of Public Health


Ken Service, director of the Office of News & Information, replies:

1) Despite personal opinions to the contrary, the fact is that the Court of Common Pleas, in the first and only review of the issues by a judicial officer, found the University's health benefits plan to be non-discriminatory.

2) Speculation aside as to what actions elected officials might take, the fact remains that last June three-quarters of the members of the House of Representatives voted for a measure that would have cut off state funds to any state-owned or state-related university providing same-sex health benefits, and one of those other institutions that "might follow" Pitt's lead already rejected the request for same-sex benefits more than a year ago in the face of these messages from the Commonwealth.

3) According to information provided by the College and University Personnel Association this month, 30 of the 61 member universities of the Association of American Universities offer domestic partner benefits, but only 10 of the 32 public university members of the AAU are included in that number. Of those 10, six are units of the University of California System.


Integrity, honesty vital for new dental school's dean

To the editor:

I'm pleased the University Times (March 2 and March 16, 2000) has shown interest in reporting the search for the School of Dental Medicine's next dean. The search committee's first open meeting was well-attended, but not reported in the press. There, I discussed several qualities I'd like to see in our next dean:

* Honesty.

* Integrity.

* Willingness to accept constructive criticism, without retaliating against the person offering it.

* Outstanding academic training, with considerable administrative experience, a record of scholarship, and demonstrated commitment to excellence in clinical dentistry.

* Recognition of the value of research and willingness to support it.

* Respect for, and adherence to, University and SDM policies and procedures.

I urged the committee to verify each serious candidate's credentials thoroughly, as a simple way to help identify individuals with honesty, integrity and ability to lead by example –essential qualities in academic administrators. To show how vetting can help avoid serious embarrassment, I cited The Chronicle of Higher Education's articles about Albright College's new president, who falsely claimed in his CV he had two books due out soon.

Unfortunately, some embarrassed institutions and their leaders prefer to cover up errors rather than admit them, or to attack those who detect inflated claims.

At the search meeting, I raised the honesty issue because former SDM Dean Jon B. Suzuki has repeatedly misstated and misrepresented his record, and continues to. He's never issued corrections for his misrepresentations or errors, nor have University officials publicly condemned or rectified them. This official silence, despite available facts, may send students the inappropriate message that misrepresenting and falsifying are acceptable conduct at Pitt — when they are not.

* Recent misrepresentations by Suzuki appeared in an interview with The Voice (a publication of Pitt's American Student Dental Association) in February — over four months after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published my letter correcting some of them. In The Voice, Suzuki:

* Falsely claimed the SDM had only provisional accreditation in 1989 when he became dean.

In fact, the ADA had already fully accredited our D.M.D. program and six specialties in 1988; two specialties earned conditional approval for correctable minor flaws. "Provisional accreditation" was only for deficiencies so serious that a school could lose its accreditation entirely if the problems weren't corrected within a year.

Suzuki has misrepresented the SDM's 1989 accreditation status before. Last year, he made the same false claim in a speech to the Dental Society of Western Pennsylvania's. directors (repeated twice in its journal). A past dental alumni president then used it in a letter to the Post-Gazette. I pointed out the SDM's true 1989 accreditation status in my reply.

* Falsely claimed Pitt's SDM rose from 45th in external research funding in 1989, to 16th among dental schools.

Suzuki provided The Voice with inflated research funding rankings. His table purported Pitt's SDM to rank 16th in NIDCR support among 55 U.S. dental schools, even though its title specifies entire institutions (some without dental schools).

NIH department tables for dental schools ranked Pitt only 38th in FY 97, not 16th. For FY 98, NIH ranked the SDM 27th in NIDCR grants, and 23rd in total NIH funding. Most of the University's NIDCR funds go to P.I.s with primary appointments outside the SDM — in medicine, GSPH or FAS. Even NIH doesn't attribute these funds to the SDM.

Suzuki has falsely equated total University NIDCR funding with the SDM's before. In a 1998 Faculty Development Newsletter and 1999 address to the DSWP directors (repeated in its journal), he said the SDM ranked 17th. The ex-dental alumni president used this, too, in his Post-Gazette letter; although my reply corrected this misrepresentation, Suzuki continues spreading it.

* Misstated the SDM's NIH funding rankings just before he became dean.

Suzuki has claimed the SDM was 45th in NIH funding in 1989 and 43rd in 1990 — but then jumped to 17th in 1991, just one year after he became dean. In 1992, a department chair factually discredited these claims by sending all faculty a memo listing NIDR funding to U.S. dental schools for those years. Shortly thereafter, Suzuki demoted the chair.

The SDM couldn't have been 45th in total NIH funding in 1989; it had nearly as much then as in FY 97, when Suzuki said we'd risen to 16th. Pitt's own Office of Research reported the SDM averaged $1,094,500 annually in 1988-90, and $974,660 for FY 95-97. Even without adjusting for inflation or increased NIH funding, we had more annual support before Suzuki became dean than in recent years under him. It's unlikely that comparable NIH funding levels could rank the SDM far lower years ago than lately, as Dean Suzuki claims.

* Disregarded ADA and AADS opposition to dental school rankings.

The ADA and American Association of Dental Schools caution against school rankings, finding their bases "questionable." Higher-education experts castigate such listings as unreliable measures of academic excellence, especially denouncing Jack Gourman's secretive criteria and methodology. By citing Pitt's Gourman Report ranking, Suzuki ignored their policy.

* Defamed objective reporting of his resignation announcement.

Readers could reasonably infer that I swayed the Post-Gazette to "slant" its reporting. In fact, I'd merely expressed opinions, which the reporter balanced by summarizing Suzuki's written announcement plus some of his and his supporters' past comments, when none returned his calls.

The Post-Gazette published two responses to its article, attacking the paper and me. Both writers included the same factual errors and misstatements Suzuki has repeatedly used to inflate or falsify his accomplishments as dean, and chastised the paper for not printing these instead.

After reading Suzuki's misrepresentations, I e-mailed The Voice and asked them to make corrections in their next issue; I also provided support documents and web addresses for data. After five weeks, The Voice replied that the editorial board had decided not to address the issue in future publications: "[W]hile apparently a hot topic amongst faculty and alumni, the validity of Dr. Suzuki's remarks is not a student concern." [my emphases].

As a faculty member, I believe they should be concerned.

John J. Baker

Associate Professor

School of Dental Medicine


Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, and Thomas W. Braun, interim dean, School of Dental Medicine, reply:

Thank you for offering us the opportunity to respond to the letter to the editor from Dr. John Baker. Although the School of Dental Medicine does not share the opinions espoused by Dr. Baker, we welcome this opportunity to express our pride in the undisputed past accomplishments of the dental school and our optimism about its future. Under the school's current leadership and the faculty of the dental school, we enter the year 2000 as a fully accredited School of Dental Medicine, with an excellent student body, a growing program of externally funded research, and a faculty whose accomplishments reflect the highest standards of academia. It is our ardent desire to look forward and to move forward, building on, but not dwelling on, our past. We invite and welcome the participation of all who wish to work with us to ensure that in the future the University of Pittsburgh's School of Dental Medicine takes its place among the elite of such schools in the world.


Leave a Reply