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October 15, 1998

One of many final events for retiring senior vice chancellor

Even loyal Senate Council attendees admit the meetings can be a bit — dry? ponderous? — with their debates over bylaw revisions, cost attribution studies and other less-than-scintillating agenda items.

But Thomas Detre, Pitt senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences (and thus, an administrative member of Council) since December 1984, could always be counted on for a flash of wit, an insight into health care politics or, occasionally and memorably, a clash with faculty leaders over academic issues in the Health Sciences schools.

Detre, 74, attended his final Council meeting Oct. 12.

He will retire as senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences at the end of this month. Former National Institutes of Health administrator Arthur Levine will succeed Detre as senior vice chancellor and also will serve as dean of the medical school.

At the Oct. 12 Council meeting, Detre's boss, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, paid tribute to the outgoing senior vice chancellor, who first announced plans to retire in 1992. It took three searches to find a successor.

(The first search ended in summer 1993 when Pitt could not reach agreement with any of four finalists. Nordenberg himself, prior to being appointed interim chancellor, chaired the second search, which Pitt's Board of Trustees called off in May 1995. Trustees leaders announced that hiring Detre's successor should wait until the board named a new, permanent chancellor — who turned out to be Nordenberg.) "During the first two searches," Nordenberg told Senate Council this week, "there was speculation that maybe he [Detre] didn't really want to go.

"All it took was a few years of working regularly with me," Nordenberg quipped, "and he decided that retirement was, in fact, an attractive alternative." The chancellor praised Detre as "a legendary academic leader" whose commitment to excellence and skill in nurturing it will serve as a model for academic leaders at Pitt as well as nationally.

Turning to Detre, he continued: "Tom, I certainly benefited from the opportunities I've had to work closely with you. And the University as a whole is a far, far better place for [having had] your leadership. I do thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help." "Mark," Detre replied, "thank you very much for your gracious words." After a flawlessly timed pause, Detre turned to Council and deadpanned, "Who am I to contradict my chancellor?" After the laughter and applause died down, Nordenberg rejoined: "Well, you could at least have contradicted the part about my driving you out of office!" Detre concluded: "I really appreciated the opportunity that allowed me to stay, and I appreciate the opportunity that allows me to leave now. I wish my very best to you, to Jim [Maher, Pitt provost] and, indeed, to all of you," he said to the Council.

"Because as you probably know, even though I'm known to be a very direct person who says exactly what he thinks, I never was interested in ad hominem argument. I was only interested in issues. So, those of you who remember my direct comments will soon forget them, and I hope that we will remain friends. Thank you again." Psychology professor James Holland served three terms as University Senate president during the early 1990s; his relationship with Detre was similar in spirit to that between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in the 1970s. But after this week's Council meeting, Holland said of his old rival: "Dr. Detre and I had some pretty strong differences of opinion in matters of principle when I was Senate president, and I stand by every position I've taken.

"But long ago, Dr. Detre and I in conversation acknowledged that that's exactly what they were: differences of opinion, that it wasn't personal and that we respected each other's positions." — Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 4

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