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April 16, 1998


Open letter to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg:

Due to the long-term combined generosity of University benefits and the U.S. stock market, many veteran faculty have been able to join in building campus scholarship funds. One consequence is that we receive handsome invitations to the University of Pittsburgh's Pitt Ambassadors Program Dinner.

This year's blue and gold packet has arrived announcing the annual dinner for April 30 with the Rt. Hon. John Major, MP, as speaker. Fair enough, the Conservative member of Parliament for Huntingdon is former prime minister of Great Britain, and once visited Pittsburgh in the company of President Clinton.

Although he is hardly an exciting and admired figure of our time, it wasn't Mr. Major that bothered me but rather the partisan monotony which his choice keeps intact. For a public university that celebrates diversity and openness, the selection of this political and economic champion of free enterprise and minimal government makes it eight out of eight for the breed.

The list reads like a retirement club of gentry who have presided over dreary times for the working people and poor of the Atlantic Alliance, with not a little misery and violence for some nations outside the Alliance. Consider the eight: Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, William Bennett, Norman Schwarzkopf, Margaret Thatcher, Jack Kemp, George Bush, John Major.

A homogeneous octet who have helped undermine the balance among government, business and community, rich and poor, employees and employers, that the nation approached during the decades after World War II.

Not a single Jimmy Carter, Robert Reich or Bill Bradley to relieve the monotony. Please, Mr. Chancellor, use your considerable influence to diversify the mix before our beloved University is charged with a rigor mortis complex, a charge that could only harm us on the fundraising front.

Jim Cunningham Professor Emeritus School of Social Work


Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg responds:

The Pitt Ambassadors are volunteers from the local business community. Many have no other ties to this University. However, they have chosen to visibly support an institution that they consider to be an important regional asset. In fact, since its inception in 1992, the dinner program annually sponsored by the Pitt Ambassadors has been viewed as one of the city's premier fundraisers. One of the things that makes this dinner such a special event is its goal — supporting scholarship awards to some of the area's most gifted high school students. Currently, eight truly outstanding Pitt undergraduates enjoy the benefits of full-tuition grants awarded by the Ambassadors. Others are receiving partial-tuition scholarships. And funds are available to support these awards for one basic reason — the Pitt Ambassadors Dinner is held in one of the biggest rooms in town, and it almost always attracts a "full house." The approach employed by the Ambassadors in selecting a speaker is the same as that used by most organizations — trying to determine who will be of interest to its principal audience. Using that approach, the Ambassadors have brought to Pittsburgh a series of respected world figures, each with interesting experiences to describe and with thought-provoking messages to share. And, quite obviously, any university's role in promoting diversity in the marketplace of ideas is not measured by focusing on any individual speaker or even on any individual group. Instead, one needs to look at the larger picture.

This academic year, for example, Pitt will have played a role in hosting two former heads of state — Mr. Major and Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica — two distinguished individuals representing very different political philosophies. And turning to Professor Cunningham's preferred "short list," it might be noted that both Robert Reich (just last fall) and Bill Bradley (several years ago, when he was still a senator) have spoken at Pitt events. Former President Carter, unfortunately, still has not responded positively to a series of invitations, a number of them initiated within the Chancellor's office.

Other recent speakers at the University include Maya Angelou, Derrick Bell, Sam Donaldson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Al Gore (twice), Oseola McCarty, Salman Rushdie, George Stephan-opoulos and Alice Walker. That partial listing certainly suggests that diversity of opinion is alive and well at Pitt.

One further characteristic of Pitt Ambassadors dinners has been the timeliness of many of the speakers' appearances. With recent developments in the peace process in Northern Ireland, that again will be true of Mr. Major's visit. From all indications, then, the pattern of past Ambassadors dinners will continue in 1998 — with a large crowd enjoying an interesting speech while supporting a very worthy cause.


To the editor:

I am writing to ask a question of our Human Resources department and the University.

In reviewing my health benefits information, I came across an interesting and I believe unfair situation. I have Keystone Blue — the individual plan. The University contributes $175 towards my coverage, which fortunately covers it completely.

What I find unfair is that the University contributes $340 for each employee who elects the Parent/Child/Children coverage and $370 for each employee who elects Husband/Wife or Family coverage. Are those employees more valuable to the University than I am? Why would the University not contribute the same dollar amount for each employee regardless of their coverage? If an employee chose a coverage which is less expensive, they should be able to use any additional dollars to purchase other benefits.

I find this to be an unfair policy and hope that someday the University will feel all of its employees have an equal value to them.

Andrea G. Loughner

Parking and Transportation

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