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November 12, 1998



A meeting of faculty representatives to the committees of the Board of Trustees was held on Oct. 15, with several purposes in mind. One was to provide an opportunity for the representatives to share their experiences regarding the functions and methods of operation of the various committees. Another was to enable the representatives to indicate views about ways in which their participation in the board committees might be enhanced, to better serve both faculty and University interests. I was very impressed by the quality of the comments and suggestions made by the faculty representatives generally, and particularly by their recognition of the sensitivity of the role of faculty in dealing with the corporate culture. While no concrete proposal emerged from the meeting, it is clear that many present felt it was a very valuable experience. Based on the discussion at the meeting, I have written to Robert Dunkelman, secretary of the board, for clarification of board policies regarding maintaining the confidentiality of information presented at committee meetings.

The Oct. 29 issue of the University Times contained an interview with Dean Ellen Rudy, of the School of Nursing , who spent part of her current sabbatical working in the UPMC-Presbyterian emergency room. In the interview she contrasted life in the ER with meetings of the Senate Council and the University Planning and Budget Committee, by saying, with regard to the council and committee meetings, "Oh they're so boring! You almost feel like, when you're in those UPBC meetings, they don't even know what the real world is. It's almost like, 'Get a life here, fellas.'" Having served with Dean Rudy on the search committee for the senior vice chancellor, Health Sciences/dean of the School of Medicine, I concluded that no meeting at which she is participating could be boring. I would agree, based on my infrequent ER visits over the years, that Senate Council meetings are less exciting than life in the ER. I hope Dean Rudy does not believe boring necessarily means useless or unimportant. While I would not go so far as to say that all, or even much, that occurs at Senate Council meetings is important, some meetings have dealt with matters of considerable importance to the Pitt community. I was less interested in Dean Rudy's views on committees than with her willingness, as a member of a profession and as a dean, to seek to learn from personal experience how members of her profession currently function on a day-to-day basis. Many of this University's schools prepare individuals for professional careers. There is a tendency on the part of some academics to lose touch with what is happening within the profession, and in the work environments in which the professionals function. Dean Rudy, by her example, has made the point that maintaining the link between the academic and the professional, even at the exalted level of dean, is important. I question whether faculty who teach in the professional schools, such as the School of Law, the Katz Graduate School of Business or the Graduate School of Public Health, to name but three, can be fully effective as instructors without direct experience with the life of the professionals dealing with, and resolving, the problems professionals encounter in serving the public. Harvard Law School's Professor Lawrence Tribe has been quoted that he desired "to be in a place where people felt that ideas could interact with life" in explaining his practice as an appellate advocate. A faculty member does not need a sabbatical, or several months off, to maintain contact with his or her profession; the objective can be met by regular activity as a professional during the academic year. The important thing is to know what the professionals are called upon to do, and to bring that into the classroom in some fashion. It is accomplished by putting one's self in the professional's shoes by actually doing the work.

I don't know to what extent the ringing of pagers in classrooms throughout the University is a problem, but there rarely is a class meeting in the courses I teach without at least one individual being contacted by pager. The student paged usually then leaves the classroom in order to communicate with his or her home "base." Many of the students in my courses are employed part- or full-time by organizations in the health field. In one sense we are fortunate their employers accommodate the students, so they can attend classes during traditional working hours. There are also situations in which a student needs to be reached and must leave the classroom to attend to some family matter, and faculty certainly recognize this. However, there is little question that a pager going off during a class discussion has a disruptive effect on the students. I don't have a grand solution to the pager problem, but I believe that we should not ignore these disturbances, and that it is advisable to seek some solution, perhaps with technology, perhaps by a University policy. There are pagers which are soundless; they only vibrate. My major concern is with the sound disturbing the students and faculty, who are entitled to freedom from such noisy interference. Any thoughts concerning how to deal with the paging situation will be greatly appreciated.

Nathan Hershey, a professor of health services administration in the Graduate School of Public Health, is president of the University Senate.

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