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February 1, 1996

Consultants' report details University's strengths, weaknesses

Last week, Pitt released a much-awaited report by a team of five prominent educators from around the country, hired last fall to do a comprehensive review of the University.

How did the review team see Pitt? On the positive side, as "an imposing, impressive institution of great quality" with a number of world-class academic programs and a generally excellent (if "dispirited") faculty. Pitt performs significant basic research and has a long and distinguished tradition of contributing to the community, the consultants wrote. Currently, the University accounts for 1 in 17 jobs in Allegheny County, they noted.

But the team also blasted Pitt for being "bureaucratic and top-heavy," with "significant fragmentation and duplication of resources" by the lower campus and the medical center. Student admissions requirements, SAT scores — and campus morale — are too low, and the University neglects its undergraduate programs, the consultants said.

Despite a "huge" pool of alumni, including more than 100,000 in Allegheny County, Pitt fund-raising is "very disappointing" and "should be at least twice the current level," the consultants concluded. In terms of fiscal planning and budgeting, they said, Pitt is "an organization out of control." The report recommends restructuring the athletics department and examining the efficiency of other units that "appear to be significant financial drains," including the dental school, the Titusville campus and the University Press.

"The University's most pressing need," according to the review team, "is to restructure, reorganize, define responsibility for and recruit a united and strong board of trustees. Until that task is undertaken successfully, the appointment of a new chancellor and all the many other changes needed at Pitt are apt to be marginalized or fail." Pitt's 50-member board is too large and has too many committees, the consultants argued. Faculty, staff and students should no longer be members of board committees, although they could be invited by the chancellor to serve in a limited capacity, the report says.

The consultants also faulted trustees for failing to accept their responsibility to lead Pitt fund-raising. The board "appears to have not only delegated that responsibility, but to have abrogated its obligation to support the institution financially," they wrote. "The percentage of trustees giving to Pitt at all is woefully inadequate, and the average giving of those who do so is poor." In an interview, board chairperson J. Wray Connolly said the trustees have spent a day and a half, so far, discussing the report and will continue to do so. But he said he has already ruled out two of the consultants' recommendations: downsizing the board and the committee searching for a new permanent chancellor.

Connolly noted that trustee giving to Pitt increased dramatically between the period of July 1-Dec. 31, 1994 ($59,098) and the same period in 1995 ($184,418). He defended the board against consultants' charges that it tends to fluctuate between extremes of being aloof or meddlesome.

"I think it [the board] is extremely competent," Connolly said. "I couldn't be more pleased with that board and its commitment. Sure, there are probably some members who don't care, but not very many." As for charges that some trustees seek to micro-manage the University, Connolly said: "The job of this board is to set broad direction for the institution, not to micro-manage. This University is going to be run — a word that really rankles some people here — run by the chancellor. All of the chancellor's power comes from the board. Everyone else's power comes from the chancellor. And that's the way it's going to be." Asked if that represented a change from past governance at Pitt, Connolly replied: "I don't know. Maybe it's a change from the way some people have perceived it to be." It was Connolly who, last summer, ordered the hiring of outside experts to evaluate the University. James L. Fisher, a psychologist who has expertise in colleges in transition, led the review team. Connolly has emphasized that the Fisher report is "just one piece of a much larger effort to get a focus on where we are as a University and where we want to go." (See stories on this page and page 5 for more information about the Fisher group and its report.) o Wherever Pitt decides to go, the consultants offered 70 recommendations on what the institution ought to do. Among those recommendations:

* "It is clear that something dramatic must be done in athletics at a university with aging athletic facilities, a rather apathetic student body regarding sports [and] an unenthusiastic media," the consultants wrote. They noted that Pitt's football program, which should be generating revenue to support less popular sports, is losing $3 million to $4 million annually.

Most of the people interviewed by the consultants about Pitt athletics said the department "has operated autonomously for many years; its methods, plans and budgets are not known and it is presumed that the involvement of a number of trustees who do not wish to have known information about the financial condition of athletics are the force that maintain the relative freedom of this unit. Whether true or not, even the perception that board members are playing such a role is unwholesome." In an interview, Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said the administration has begun taking steps recommended by the consultants, including doing a better job of integrating athletics into annual budget planning and opening the department's fiscal books to the University Planning and Budgeting Committee.

* To ensure that Pitt's top-notch academic programs get the support they need, some programs must get less support or be eliminated, the consultants wrote. They recommended systematically evaluating every one of the University's 119 master's and 82 doctoral programs in terms of quality, demand and efficiency.

* Pitt should raise its admissions standards. In fall 1992, the most recent term available for comparison, Pitt accepted 76 percent of its freshmen applicants, a higher rate than at most comparable universities. (For example, Penn State's acceptance rate was 47 percent that year.) Also in fall 1992, Pitt students' average SAT scores were fifth-lowest among the 54 members of the elite Association of American Universities.

The consultants called for a "more clearly defined admissions policy" and suggested that lower-qualified applicants could be admitted as "special unclassified students," not officially freshmen. "These students would be admitted based on secondary school graduation or GED test results and be allowed to take no more than nine hours per term. At the completion of 15-20 hours of course work with at least a 2.0 grade point average, a student could be considered for classified standing. Courses could be taken in the day, evening or on weekends. Such a program should not cost additional funds (indeed, higher fees could be charged if appropriate), the general student SAT profile would increase markedly, making the institution more attractive to prospective students, and enrollment and revenues would probably increase."

* The University should embark on a "carefully considered campaign to market Pitt effectively" and improve relations with potential benefactors, politicians and business persons, the Oakland community and the news media. "The worldwide reputations of many of the University's programs are lost in the local spotlight on administrative gaffes, questionable board decisions, vocal dissidents on the faculty, and self-inflicted wounds," the consultants wrote.

* By September 1997, Pitt should systematically eliminate duplication of services between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the rest of the University.

* Pitt should eliminate the position of senior vice chancellor for Health Administration (currently held by UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff), replacing it with an associate vice chancellor who would report to the senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences (currently, Thomas P. Detre).

The Health Sciences senior vice chancellor should also be dean of the School of Medicine and should have fiscal responsibility for all academic Health Sciences programs.

* The chancellor should establish and conduct a system of evaluating top administrative officers. "Those who excel should be rewarded, those with limitations should be informed, and those who fall short, replaced. The same methods of individual accountability should follow throughout the management hierarchy."

* The role of the University Senate should be more clearly defined as advisory.

— Bruce Steele

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