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September 11, 1997

Faculty Assembly gets update on 'compatibility' of Pitt, UPMCS

Two professors accused the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center System (UPMCS) of dictating policy and interfering in the academic affairs of their schools, during a Sept. 9 Faculty Assembly discussion of the Pitt-UPMCS relationship.

Dental medicine professor Robert Mundell said his school's teaching programs have suffered from the loss of faculty who resigned rather than comply with UPMCS's demand that they bring their private practices under the system.

Medical school professor Nicholas Bircher said his school's faculty "have seen the summary dismissal of several department chairmen who attempted to resist in any way what is — essentially, from our grunt-level perspective — dictated by the UPMCS. It's not a negotiation. There is no more negotiation [between UPMCS and the medical school] than there is in the average terrorist action." The professors spoke during a discussion led by University Senate Vice President Nathan Hershey, who chairs a Senate committee studying whether Pitt's academic mission is compatible with the business goals of UPMCS, a separate corporation.

In updating Assembly members on the activities of what he calls the "compatibility committee," Hershey cited the following committee concerns:

* A new Pitt-UPMCS task force, appointed to examine the same kinds of issues that Hershey's group is studying, includes representatives of Pitt and the medical center system but no School of Medicine faculty or administrators. * The search for a new senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences may be "compromised" by the fact that important issues, including financial ones, remain to be negotiated in the aftermath of the restructuring of the Pitt-UPMCS relationship, which Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced in July.

* When Pitt's 18 clinical practice plans are merged into a single plan and moved from the University's jurisdiction to that of UPMCS, clinical faculty will be paid both by Pitt (for academic duties) and UPMCS (for clinical work). The new arrangement raises questions about tenure and the measurement of faculty productivity, Hershey said.

* As UPMCS has acquired new hospitals and other subsidiaries, the proportion of Pitt representatives on the system's board has shrunk, Hershey said. He also noted the proliferation of UPMCS boards of directors, such as the joint board that governs UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Shadyside hospitals; Pitt appoints just one-third of the joint board's members. The overlap of members serving on various Pitt and UPMCS boards may lead to conflicts of interest, Hershey added. Hershey said the compatibility committee plans to recommend that Chancellor Nordenberg meet with medical faculty to discuss the school's role in the Pitt-UPMCS partnership. The committee itself will continue to gather information and meet with Pitt and medical center personnel, then report again to Faculty Assembly before finalizing its report, he said.

One authority on Pitt-UPMCS relations, system president Jeffrey Romoff, has declined to meet with the committee, Hershey reported.

"The committee realizes that the UPMCS has its own agenda…It's no surprise that the goals of UPMCS and its allies might not necessarily be consonant with those of the University, particularly the University's academic mission," Hershey said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 2

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