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

July 23, 1998


A number of people have asked me which major issues I see the University Senate dealing with this year. Frankly, it appears from the June 25 meeting of Pitt's Board of Trustees, only the second Pitt board meeting I've attended in over 40 years, that things are generally going very well and there may not be any major issues, or at least issues that will engender much strife, on the horizon. At the board meeting Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg reported on many recent achievements of the University: increased SAT scores of entering freshmen; increased undergraduate applications; improvement in physical facilities; state funding for various projects; the continuing increase in research funding; substantial increases in trustee giving and other gifts, to name but a few. His report was certainly one to leave the board with the impression that the University is well-administered, and that the board was playing its role properly and effectively in setting policy and facilitating the administration's work. The meeting included election and re-election of individuals to positions on the University board, the board of the UPMC Health System and the UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Shadyside Joint Board. J. Wray Connolly was re-elected as chairperson of the Pitt board, and is eligible to serve only one additional year after this one as chairperson. In part because he was the key advocate for removing the vote from faculty, staff and student representatives to board committees, some faculty have the impression that he is not particularly interested in faculty and its role in governance. Even if this impression is incorrect, faculty should be interested in who will eventually succeed him. A board headed by someone seen as more sensitive to faculty and, for that matter, students and staff, would make some members of the University community more comfortable. Perhaps Mr. Connolly's greatest impact on the University has been, and will be, by virtue of his service as a member of the executive committee and first chairperson of the UPMC Health System Board, and as a member of the executive committee of the joint board, of which he is second vice chairperson. His involvement with UPMC Health System, while chairperson of the University's board, may raise questions about whether these roles present any conflict of interest in connection with the one development during the past year that may have serious consequences for the University: namely the struggle between the UPMC Health System and the School of Medicine faculty. There has been a widely shared concern by faculty that the University has not been effective on behalf of faculty and academic interests in its negotiations with the UPMC Health System concerning the University of Pittsburgh Physicians (the successor organization to the various medical faculty practice plans) and academic program resources of the School of Medicine. Mr. Connolly is in a position to play critical roles on both sides of what many perceive as a bargaining table situation. While interlocking board memberships in academic medical center governance arrangements are prevalent, if not universal, they are increasingly being seen as raising serious fiduciary duty issues. The University can make no deal this year with the UPMC Health System that does not meet with Mr. Connolly's personal approval, given the positions and power he holds. President Clinton supposedly is concerned about his legacy. Mr. Connolly may have some interest in what his terms as board chairperson will be remembered for. His numerous achievements include bringing about the timely termination of Dr. J. Dennis O'Connor several years ago and engineering the appointment of a chancellor who has a long list of successes to his credit already. In addition, he will be seen as responsible, in part at least, for the greatly improved image of the University, and the reduction in long-term financial commitments to many faculty through an incentive retirement program. If an accommodation is achieved that allows UPMC Health System to be successful and, at the same time, quiets unrest within the medical school faculty, history will look on Mr. Connolly as having built an excellent record. However, if the School of Medicine faculty believe that the arrangement reached between the University and the UPMC Health System has sacrificed their interests and denies them the ability to meet the school's academic goals, despite the University's other achievements since Mr. Connolly became chairperson, there will be a cloud over his tenure, and problems for his successor. The only other Pitt board meeting I've attended was the one held on June 13, 1991, at which Dr. O'Connor was introduced to the University community. We all know how short and unsuccessful his tenure was here. At the June 25 meeting this year, the new senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences/dean of the School of Medicine designate, Dr. Arthur S. Levine, was officially appointed. Filling that key position has taken a good deal of time and effort, and I expect that Dr. Levine will last longer and be more successful than Dr. O'Connor.

If things continue to move in a positive direction at the University, with faculty, students, staff, board and administration all basically satisfied with the way things are going, I can't picture a better climate in which to serve as Senate president.

Nathan Hershey is a professor of Health Services Administration in the Graduate School of Public Health.

Leave a Reply