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February 4, 1999



In his regular Sunday offering on Jan. 17, John G. Craig Jr., editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, self-proclaimed as "One of America's Great Newspapers," took a swipe or two at the University of Pittsburgh. Mr. Craig, whose writing I usually find to be pedantic, sanctimonious and whiny, often tries to explain or justify the decisions made by him as an editor. In his piece on Jan. 17 he rejected the complaint by Ralph Willard, coach of the Panthers men's basketball team, about the publication in t he Post-Gazette of the specific reason one of his team's members had been absent for several games. Coach Willard had responded to inquiries by saying that the player was away on personal business, but the Post-Gazette learned, and then reported, that th e young man was being treated for alcohol abuse.

The question is not whether the Post-Gazette is free to publish that information; rather, it is whether it is necessary and desirable to do so under the circumstances. I would agree with Mr. Craig that there are certain times when the absence of an athlet e from his or her usual place on the field or in the arena is worth reporting. If the athlete has engaged in conduct affecting third parties, such as behavior that may bring, or has brought, sanctions by the NCAA, or has been involved in criminal conduct — burglary, assault and battery, etc. — I think that information should be reported, at least to the same extent as criminal activity of students and others who are not intercollegiate athletes. However, in this instance the student-athlete was dealing with an alcohol problem, and there is no indication his problem would have an impact on third parties, other than his teammates. I wonder whether Mr. Craig would agree that, if an employee of the Post-Gazette, for example its editor, were to have an alc ohol problem and be unable, because of his treatment program, to write his weekly piece, the editor's problem should be reported on the pages of the Post-Gazette, to explain the absence of his usual Sunday piece. I am sure that, from time to time, an empl oyee of One of America's Great Newspapers has had personal difficulties that caused the individual to miss work. Since I am familiar with the names of some of the writers and have seen their bylines, they may be considered similar to college athletes who se names are also put before the public, and thus also are public entertainers.

Perhaps of greater interest to some in the University community is the characterization of the University's basketball program as public entertainment. With regard to the athlete whose specific problem was revealed, Mr. Craig wrote: "In the particular ca se, a 23-year-old man who has been recruited as a public entertainer fails to show up for a scheduled performance…." About the program he wrote, "Pitt's basketball program is indistinguishable in everything but name from any other major public entertai nment that brings in a great deal of money at the box office and attracts large audiences." Mr. Craig's comments raise the question of whether the view that Pitt's men's basketball and football programs are public entertainment, rather than an aspect of the institution's academic mission broadly viewed, is widely shared in the community. If the perception of the University's revenue sports as solely public entertainment is held by many, the University might believe some response is called for, unless it accepts Mr. Craig's characterization as accurate. q Turning to a very different subject, I want to alert members of the University community to the University Senate's spring plenary session, to be held on March 24, 3-5 p.m., in the William Pitt Union Ballroom. Although the planning for the session is n ot yet complete, the title is: "Challenge for the New Millennium: Developing Seamless Education, Kindergarten Through College." The overall purpose of the program is to inform the faculty of the current outreach initiatives of the University to students i n schools within our region, and to discuss strategies for building improved relationships between the University and the public secondary schools from which we draw the bulk of our undergraduate student body.

There have been faculty complaints about the lack of preparedness of entering students and the difficulties this poses for faculty responsible for their instruction once they enter the University. To the extent that efforts of the University will make ent ering students better qualified for their educational experiences here, interests of both the students and the faculty will be served.

Some attribute the success in life of graduates of Ivy League institutions more to the quality of the students those institutions attract, part of which is due to the students' elementary and secondary school preparation, than to the instruction provided by those institutions. To the extent that we can improve the pool from which this University draws its student body, the faculty can better assist our students to prepare for, and to achieve, success after they complete their education here.

Nathan Hershey is president of the University Senate.

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