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October 13, 1994

Discussion of Times continued at Council

Public discussion of the future of the University Times spilled over from last week's Faculty Assembly meeting to the Oct. 11 Senate Council meeting.

Several faculty members of Council argued for keeping the Times editorially independent and criticized a consultant's report that recommended giving University administrators greater control over the newspaper.

Darlene Harris, president of the Staff Association Council, said she believed that most staff agree with her that the Times should remain independent.

On the administrative side of Council, Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor said he would not "countenance any thought" of further cutting the budget of the Times, which has seen its editorial staff reduced from five full-time equivalent employees to two-and-a-half in the last 15 years.

O'Connor said he believes that the newspaper's publisher, Vice Chancellor for Student and Public Affairs Leon Haley, agrees that the Times budget should not be cut. (Haley, who is a Council member, had left the meeting by the time the chancellor made the comment.) Provost James Maher suggested leaving the future editorial direction of the Times in the hands of the newspaper's six-member advisory board, which includes former presidents of the University Senate and SAC. "This is a credible committee," Maher said of the Times advisory board. "Why not let them take it from here?" Maher and O'Connor's remarks helped convince economics professor Herb Chesler to withdraw his motion that Council go on record as opposing further cuts in the Times budget. Chesler said he introduced the motion because he thought last week's Faculty Assembly vote to support the Times's current editorial policy did not go far enough toward expressing faculty resistance to turning the newspaper into a "house organ." (See Assembly story, page 1.)

English professor Phil Wion said: "I think it's very important that people who were not present at the Assembly meeting — in particular, members of the administration — appreciate the intensity of the feeling among faculty, and I believe among staff, that the University Times is a precious institution at this University." Turning the Times into a public relations publication would be "a serious blow" to Pitt and its efforts for academic excellence and a free exchange of ideas, he said.

Senate President James Holland told Council: "The Times, by its founding charter, has journalistic independence. Its consistently objective, careful coverage has served the University well. Open access to information is essential for shared decision-making and essential if faculty, staff and administrators are to align on a common purpose." Richard Tobias, an English professor who serves on the Times advisory board, blasted a report written last summer by consultant M. Frederic Volkmann of Washington University, who was hired to evaluate Pitt's internal and external communication. In the sections of his report dealing with the Times, Volkmann criticized the paper for covering "divisive" issues and recommended overhauling the newspaper as a public relations vehicle, said Tobias.

SAC President Harris, in a statement to the Times following the Oct. 12 SAC meeting, said staff will no longer trust the paper if it is turned into "a vehicle for the administration to say what they want us to hear."

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 4

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