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June 22, 1995


From the HealthAmerica doctors

To the editor:

Over the past months, we have heard about the intense efforts of staff and faculty to keep their coverage with Health-America. We know that an extraordinary amount of time and energy was expended and we appreciated it.

Now the time has come when patients have to say good-by. The doctor-patient relationship that has sometimes lasted for years is disrupted. Our patients have expressed their gratitude. We wish to express ours.

We have enjoyed knowing the staff and faculty and it saddens us too to say good-by.

We, the physicians and staff of HealthAmerica, wish you all good health and a good academic year.

Ellen Berne, M.D.


Advice to the media

To the editor: In the last few weeks I have been bewildered and offended by the fact that the chancellor has been making himself unavailable to the press when asked to comment on one matter or another relating to his resignation as chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, to wit, "O'Connor . . . declined all interviews this week" (University Times, April 13, p. 1) "O'Connor . . . could not be reached" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 2, p. A-7).

"O'Connor could not be reached for comment" (The Pitt News, June 7, p. 1) "O'Connor couldn't be reached for comment" (The Pitt News, June 14, p. 4) Reasoning that the chancellor should be available to answer inquiries about this situation, I wondered why he was not, until the answer, in his very own words, came to me: In his "letter to the campus community," June 2, the chancellor informed his "university colleagues" that his decision to step down Aug. 1 was "in order to pursue opportunities in higher education that will be beneficial to the University, but which will require more time than could be devoted to them while serving as Chancellor." Interpreted for and applied to the chancellor's perplexing unavailability for comment, as demonstrated above, I believe it is fair to conclude that the chancellor believes that to address these inquiries "will require more time than could be devoted to them while serving as Chancellor." My advice, then, to members of the fourth estate is to ask him, on Aug. 1, these questions after he steps down as our chancellor.

Robert Perloff


Emeritus Katz Graduate School of Business


A history of Pitt — from the future

To the editor:

I had an extraordinary Internet experience that I must share with my colleagues. Seated one day at the computer, my fingers rambling idly over the keys, I absently struck some letters–I fear they were something like Intergal%Univ. . Histrec . . or some such silly combination, and to my surprise, the screen filled with the most extraordinary gibberish. I thought I was reading a history text from some future century. I disliked the abstracted, historical tone to the voice, but I soon felt the author (or authors, as in the case of a textbook) was writing about us. I certainly did not enjoy the sensation of being the object of someone else's discourse, and I gave little credence to the materials that flitted across the screen, until I remembered some conundrum from Einsteinian physics involving the speed of light in which you are able to return to where you started — but before you started. Was it possible? Were our actions already being recorded by some future historian whose writing I had strangely hit on? I have no reasonable explanation — I know only that the printout does exist, and is, in a relatively unedited state, as follows: . . . so in the middle nineties (the Age of the Grinch) the nation agreed that the major that the major enemy was the government in Washington (see Wahrheit and Witz, "Gingrich/Grinch: an Etymological Speculation"); that the best way to reduce government was to starve it. Republicans cut support of funding for children, the poor, the weak, the elderly, the blacks. Balancing the budget became a method of class warfare using different techniques. The funds taken from normally Democratic constituencies was then reallocated to the more traditional Republican constituencies, following the assumption that those who had already achieved great wealth better understood how to use money more effectively.

While these views may be considered arcane, and perhaps even paradoxical and internally incoherent, it might be best to see how they worked in a representative case. At the University of Pittsburgh, an important university in the western part of the eastern part of the country, a chancellor was removed for reasons that have yet to be discovered. Evidence suggests that he had lost the confidence of the Board of Trustees. While there is little available primary material, some scraps — mainly from a local newspaper called the University Times — suggest that the university was undergoing a financial crisis of such severity that faculty salaries were frozen. At the same time, the University announced that it would increase student tuition to help balance the budget. The school had also asked the government in Harrisburg for a six percent increase in the state subsidy, but had been rejected. The University had developed, somewhere in the middle of the last quarter of the twentieth century, the practice of hiring coaches for athletic activities and then firing them. True, the activities of the coaches had nothing directly to do with the avowed purpose of the University, but the practice of paying no-longer-working coaches three or four years of salary soon became a part of school philosophy. Some critics have suggested that this practice is a variant of an antiquated Marxist-Lenin principle: "From each according to his ability, to each, whatever he can get." The idea of paying upper level people for not working was soon extended to all chancellors — or presidents, as some liked to be called. (Some researchers argue that the roots of this practice are to be found in the New Deal practice of paying farmers not to produce — indeed, even of destroying crops to cut down on surplus.) In any case, one finds this practice throughout the highest echelons of corporate business. Often referred to as "the Golden Parachute" (a device whose invention has long been credited to Leonardo da Vinci), it was most highly developed in corporations that failed or were brought to the brink of disaster. The practice — long accepted as "the thing to do" by those who did it — was to give to people who had almost destroyed corporations large payments or annuities. Though never fully analyzed to anyone's satisfaction, the thinking seemed to be that those who ran — and even destroyed — corporations needed much more to live, and therefore needed golden parachutes. (See Chapter XXVI: The Corporation in the Post Industrial World.) Perhaps the best example can be seen in the case of Dr. J. Dennis O'Connor, who was mysteriously relieved of his chancellorship and then given an annual salary as a professor of biology of more than twice the amount of any other professor of biology, either at the University of Pittsburgh or any other university in the entire galaxy. To reconcile the ways of the Board to the faculty, the Board denied O'Connor any future salary increments until the salaries of the biology faculty (which had already been frozen) should equal his salary. In a world of frozen increments, that would mean an infinite number of years; but some analysts suggest that it might have taken between 50 and 60 years of above-average increments to equal that salary — had salaries not been frozen. A recent monograph suggests that the Board was motivated by a sharp sense of wit and the humor of the situation. More careful reading of the few texts available suggests that the Board was made up of the same type of industrialists (not Da Vincis) who had invented the Golden Parachute. One chairman of the University Board was reported to have said, "That's the way it's always done," suggesting that the values of the external world had indeed taken over at the University. No longer an ivory tower — if, indeed, it had ever really been one — the University soon adopted most of the values of contemporary business life. Controlled by people with no idea of what a University was or should be, financially damaged by decisions it could not control, the University became very much a model of the entire nation. Without principles, without a comic sense of their own humanity, torn by pride and failing to limit decorously their own greed, both the nation and the University entered into a long period of slow and darkly painful decline . . .

At that point, I accidentally touched a key and the screen went crazy. I have no idea what the author was up to, but I certainly did not like his pseudo-Spenglerian tone at the end. Has anything similar ever happened to anyone else? Has anyone else felt as I did?

Myron Taube

Department of English


Replacement Pentium chips now available

To the editor:

Several months ago we notified the University community that we would be handling the replacement of the flawed Pentium chips for University machines ordered through the purchasing department, as well as any personal machines purchased through the PC Center or at the Computer Truckload Sale.

We are now receiving the chips and would like to complete the replacement of all flawed chips by the end of August.

If you need to have a new Pentium chip installed in your machine, or several machines within a department, please call 624-6100. We will need the vendor name and model number for your computer. For University machines we also need the location of the machines. It would also be helpful to have a name of a contact person within the department.

Jinx Walton

Director Information and Office Services


A parable Once upon a time in the Land of the Pits, the people spoke among themselves saying, "Surely we are great. In fact, we are so great, we must be World-Class." And some of them believed it. Now the King of the Pits grew old and weary of ruling and caused to be made a great golden parachute. One day he leapt from the top of a high tower that was in the middle of the Land of the Pits, and was last seen floating Eastward on his golden parachute toward the Mountains of Laurel. So the People chose a new King. But after he had reigned a short time, he noticed that his coffers were sorely depleted, so he summoned his Prime Minister and said, "My coffers are nearly bare and the Gnomes in the Land of Harris will not give us any more gold. Therefore, you must increase the taxes on the Students." But the Prime Minister replied, saying, "Alas and alack, your Majesty. The Students are only temporary sojourners in our land. We dare not increase taxes on them, lest they go elsewhere and not pass through the Land of the Pits at all." The King realized the wisdom of the Prime Minister's words, and said, "Then we have no choice. We must levy a tax on the Guilds of the Faculty." The Prime Minister heeded the King's word and replied, "Very well your Majesty. How shall they be taxed?" But the King said, "Do not trouble me with details, for I am making my golden parachute." Then the Prime Minister summoned his Grand Vizier, who was chief of the Guilds of the Faculty and said, "The King's coffers are nearly bare. Therefore, the King has commanded me to levy a tax on the Guilds." The Grand Vizier heeded the Prime Minister's words, and said, "Very well, your Honor. How shall they be taxed?" And the Prime Minister said, "Tax each Guild, everyone." But the Grand Vizier replied, "That may not be wise, for they may rise in wrath and smite us on our mortarboards." Then the Prime Minister said, "You may be right. Let us ponder the situation." So the Prime Minister and the Grand Vizier sat and thought deep thoughts. Then the Prime Minister jumped to his feet, saying, "I have it! Centrality!" "Centrality?" asked the Grand Vizier. "What is that?" "Nothing," said the Prime Minister. "It is a meaningless word. But, as you shall see, it will allow us to tax the Guilds without them rising in wrath and smiting us on our mortarboards. See, we will pick a few of the smaller, weaker Guilds and declare them to be Non-Central. These we will tax heavily, enough to fill the royal coffers and have some left over to give to the large and powerful Guilds." Then the Grand Vizier became troubled at these words and said, "But your Honor, is not the goal of the Pits to become World-Class? Surely the way to this goal is to pick one of the weaker Guilds and add to its number, as our resources permit, scholarly warriors of great renown even beyond the boundaries of the Pits. If we continue in this manner with each Guild, even those that are now weak will become mighty and their fame will resound to the glory of the Pits and we will become World-Class." But the Prime Minister said, "No. The true path to becoming World-Class is this: The weak get weaker and the strong get stronger." Then the Grand Vizier saw the wisdom of the Prime Minister's words and said, "Very well. Then let us decide who is to be Central and who is to be Non-Central. What of the Guild of the Kemmists, for they have powerful warriors?" "Of course, they shall be Central," said the Prime Minister. "And what of Guild of the Physikers?" asked the Grand Vizier. "Although the numbers of their warriors are so many that they spill from the windows of their Guild Hall, yet few Students tarry there." "Nevertheless," replied the Prime Minister, "they shall be Central and their number shall be increased." Then the Grand Vizier said, "What of the Guild of the Earthers? Although they are few, they have skills that are important to the survival of our Way of Life and have among them several warriors renowned beyond the Land of the Pits even unto the ends of the Earth." But the Prime Minister said, "I do not understand what they do in their Guild Hall. Therefore, they shall be Non-Central." Then the Grand Vizier said, "What of the Guild of the Jewelers, for though they are small, their warriors are mighty?" And the Prime Minister said, "Their numbers are too few to be important. Therefore, they shall be Non-Central and shall be abolished." So the Prime Minister and the Grand Vizier continued thusly down the list of the Guilds. The larger and powerful Guilds they declared Highly Central, but they cast bones to divine which of the smaller Guilds should be Central and which Non-Central. When they had finished they called their list the Phase II Planning Document, and royal Faxers proclaimed it throughout the Land of the Pits to all the inhabitants thereof. When the word came to the Guilds that were Non-Central there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but they could do nothing because they were Non-Central, and so became smaller and weaker still. But the Guilds who were chosen Central were so grateful for not being declared Non-Central that they also did nothing. Then the People spoke among themselves saying, "Surely because of the great Phase II Planning Document we are now World-Class." And some of them believed it.


Word of Centrality spread even beyond the borders of the Land of the Pits, and bye-and-bye came to the Land of the James Madisons. Now, the coffers of the Madisons were bare, and so when their leaders received the Word they said, "What is this great thing we have heard, for it shall be our salvation." The Leaders declared that Physiks was Non-Central and abolished the Guild of the Physikers. Sic transit gloria.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Bruce Hapke

Department of Geology and Planetary Sciences

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