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March 19, 1998

Pitt/UMPC negotiations complicate search for new senior administrator

As officials from Pitt, the UPMC Health System and the University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP) unified practice plan haggle over details of a new financial relationship among the three entities, some professors are asking: How are the protracted negotiations affecting efforts to fill the newly combined job of Pitt senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine? "Well, it certainly hasn't made our job any easier," understated H.J. Zoffer, who chairs the senior vice chancellor/dean search committee.

Uncertainties about the new administrator's control over UPP revenues have complicated and delayed the search, Zoffer said.

"We're asking candidates to commit to improving the already very high levels of research and teaching within the Health Sciences schools. In addition, this University has set an absolute goal of raising its School of Medicine to among the top five medical schools in the country within the next decade," Zoffer noted.

"When we ask candidates whether they can achieve those goals, the answer in most cases is: 'Yes, I can do it, if I can command the resources necessary.'" The 18 Pitt faculty practice plans that merged to form UPP generate about $250 million annually. It isn't known yet how much say, if any, the new senior vice chancellor/dean will have over how those clinical revenues are allocated.

Candidates aren't holding out for total control of the funds, "just a fair place at the table" with UPMC Health System, Zoffer said.

The search committee has narrowed its list of candidates to "about a dozen and a half people" and still hopes to give Chancellor Mark Nordenberg a list of 3-5 finalists in time for the new senior vice chancellor/dean to start work here next fall, Zoffer said. But the search is running nearly two months behind its original timetable.

"There's no question, the timing of the search is closely tied to the timing of the negotiations" among Pitt, UPP and UPMC, Zoffer said. "If we tried to push too far ahead of the negotiations, this whole thing [the search] could unravel." Because a vital piece of the job description hasn't been written yet, candidates are being especially cagey with the search committee. No one wants to be publicly identified as a candidate until the finalist stage, Zoffer said, and the most highly qualified people still in the running for the job won't allow the committee to refer to them, even privately, as candidates.

Zoffer explained: "Some of these people have said to us, 'No, I'm not interested in the job. But, I will agree to serve as a consultant to the search committee. And, of course, if these [Pitt-UPMC-UPP] negotiations create an opportunity that's unparalleled — well, anyone would be a fool to say 'no, no, never.'" The new Health Sciences administrator will succeed Thomas Detre, who plans to retire as senior vice chancellor, and George Michalopoulos, who is interim dean of the medical school. Michalopoulos has said he is not interested in the senior vice chancellor/dean position.

— Bruce Steele

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