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October 12, 1995


Pitt needs a dose of common sense

To the editor:

COMMON SENSE, can we please PRACTICE a little of this increasingly uncommon trait? Recently, after declaring to the world that Pitt has no money for frivolous items such as staff raises, or other non-necessities, the Board of Trustees approved spending money for a few items that confuse many of us alumni, and the public (not to mention employees):

1) an independent consultant to determine Pitt's image problems, &

2) these expensive "searches" to replace administrative personnel.

Maybe I need more than a B.S. in psych from Pitt (& a QPA much higher than a 3.0) to understand this scenario, but please help me try to put this in perspective. (Helpful, constructive educational assistance would be appreciated — "sniping" is not.) If any of the trustees do not understand Pitt's image problems, one might mistakenly come to the conclusion that they shouldn't BE a trustee. WHY, especially in times of "hard economics," would someone ask outsiders (regardless of how qualified they may be) what insiders already know? Could this be resolved by the trustees LISTENING to the faculty and staff? Could the trustees sort of walk around campus and ask questions of the people and institution they represent and have been entrusted with its best interest? What is WITH this "search" concept? The last couple searches were expensive fiascoes. Why must we always look towards greener pastures instead of giving the locals a chance first, especially during "hard economics?" Wouldn't it make sense to, again, ask around, before you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (that we can NOT afford "for frivolous things").

Let us pull together and get some sense. Give the local people, who have moved up through the ranks and know what is going on around them, a chance to improve our university. They certainly deserve the chance to do the job, are knowledgeable as to what is good at Pitt and what isn't, and would be more appreciative of the opportunity. As the ad says, "Let's stop the madness" and hit the floor running.

Seems to me that the only absolute criteria necessary for a top administrator should be common sense and the willingness to listen.

One last thing I need some help on understanding — why doesn't the Board of Trustees (and the administration) seem to understand what admissions is REALLY about? They certainly seem to have been shooting themselves in the foot on this one. WHEN are they going to start treating this University and its staff as a business with sales people who attract customers who are interested in a quality education (and it is the customers that must be kept happy)? You know, my grandfather had a little dog ornament in the back of his car for the longest time. Every time the car hit a bump that dog's head went up and down, up and down. NOW is the time for all good people, who have a sense of pride and loyalty to the University, to STOP acting like that ornament and JUST SAY NO.

Bob Arlia

College of General Studies Alumnus

(Editor's note: The writer also is a staff member in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.)


Rankings story was misleading

To the editor:

Your article of Sept. 28 reporting the National Research Council's (NRC) ranking of Pitt's Department of Philosophy and Department of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) unintentionally misleads your readers about the ranking of the HPS department. You report that HPS was ranked fifth in the nation, but fail to report that we were ranked fifth among 72 philosophy departments. The NRC report also ranked departments in their effectiveness as graduate programs. In this category, Pitt's HPS department ranked third among philosophy departments, immediately after Pitt's philosophy department. This is the more remarkable, given that the HPS faculty specialize in one area of philosophy only, and has an equal strength in the history of science. Pitt, therefore, has the No. 2 and the No. 5 philosophy departments in the country.

Perhaps your reporter did not realize that HPS and philosophy are entirely distinct departments, each with its own graduate program, undergraduate major, and primary faculty. Perhaps he was also unaware that the Center for Philosophy of Science is a research center, not a department at all. Such confusion would explain the otherwise strange fact that he interviewed the chair of philosophy, and the director of the Center for Philosophy, but never attempted to interview the chair of history and philosophy of science. Had he done so, perhaps the importance of these results for the institution would have been clearer.

James G. Lennox

Chair Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Who "runs" the University?

To the editor:

My uncle, Ned R., dropped by to complain that I humiliated him in my letter to the editor (University Times, Aug. 31, 1995) concerning the search for a chancellor but, blood being thicker than criticism, he would "set me straight." Uncle said, "I don't know if your oversized ego let you read anything other than your own letter but if you read what Board chief Connolly said, you might have learned something about who runs the University." Uncle Ned was referring to an article (p. 3), on an outside consulting team, that quoted Board Chair Connolly: "We're running the place. (Interim Chancellor) Mark Nordenberg is running it, and (Provost) Jim Maher, and…the Board of Trustees." Uncle said, "The University is a corporation, a legal entity chartered by the commonwealth. Its governing board has fiduciary responsibilities and makes policy, which a CEO is obligated to administer. The CEO is accountable to the board. The V. P.-for-this and the V. P.-for-that report to the CEO and they and the top managers run the corporation. You got that?" I told Uncle that he was describing only part of the structure of leadership in a complex educational organization. I mentioned the concept of governance shared among the board, administration and faculty. I suggested that the faculty required a substantial degree of professional autonomy and academic freedom as necessary conditions for teaching, research and public service in a democratic society. Uncle's response: "Twaddle! Do you really suppose that your Senate and Faculty Assembly govern anything? Those bodies are not mentioned in the charter. They have no clout. Lucky for you and your high-minded academic pals, the administration lets you carry on. As for academic freedom, there is no freedom without responsibility and if there were not administrators to supervise you, you couldn't tell the difference between freedom and license. And, did you say something about professional autonomy? Tell me, at the end of the year, does the corporation send you a 1099 because you're an independent contractor, or does it send you a W-2, because you're an employee?" "Uncle Ned," I said, "I hope that most of the members of the board, the new chancellor, the new provost, and other academic officers don't share your views about 'running' a university because that will continue the drift to an adverse relationship between administration and faculty. It will certainly fuel the idea that a union is necessary and will decrease the appeal of the University to talented faculty. A good university needs talented faculty members more than it needs a convocation center, a growing cadre of management subalterns, or purely self-regarding administrators. Good and useful leadership comes from many sources within the diverse communities of the University, and the top executive must be someone who knows how to encourage productive dialogue among them. With help from faculty, the chancellor must be able to favorably interpret and demonstrate the positive work of this University to the legislature, the business community, interested foundations, and the people who live and work in the region. The chancellor and his management team should demonstrate respect for faculty, the student body, and staff, without whom there would be no University. An atmosphere of mutual honesty and understanding should prevail. The chancellor needs to be someone who understands the importance of the structures, processes and traditions of shared governance. I also hope, Uncle, that we don't recruit someone whose idea of development begins and ends with the idea that 'a new broom sweeps clean' or uses that favorite tool of the failed Soviet planners, a five-year plan, designed exclusively by the people at the 'top' in a fog of impenetrable ignorance." Uncle sat there, shaking his head, slowly, from side to side, saying, "You'll never learn, you'll never learn. You think all this high-minded stuff about 'participation' and 'democracy' works in the real world? What if General Powell told all of his subordinates to get the soldiers in the field to vote every time an officer gave a command? Would that be any way to run a war?" "Uncle Ned," I said, "Is the University a theater of war?"

Arden E. Melzer

Professor School of Social Work


Don't exclude scientists in search for chancellor

To the editor:

My comments at the recent hearing concerning the search for a new chancellor were not reported correctly (Sept. 28, 1995, University Times). I spoke in favor of also considering scientists as candidates, especially those who understand the needs of the University as a whole. Several speakers had proposed that scientists be excluded from consideration; we cannot afford to ignore that pool of talented candidates. Indeed, we do want a "humanist," which in its broad sense includes scientists. Candidates in all fields should be considered on their merits and on their breadth of understanding our University concerns and on their ability to communicate that understanding outside of the University.

Frank Tabakin

Chair Department of Physics and Astronomy

(Editor's note: The University Times story on the Sept. 21 chancellor search hearing quoted Tabakin as recommending that Pitt consider candidates who are humanists and Renaissance men or women comparable to the 17th-century poet, scientist and clergyman John Donne. The story also reported that Tabakin suggested that Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg — who majored in math as an undergraduate before earning a law degree — "would understand that having a university means having a universe of different topics and different understandings.")

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