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March 4, 1999


Get on with the business of teaching

To the editor:

The clash of views in the Letters column (University Times, Feb. 18, 1999) between Provost Maher and certain Johnstown College faculty triggered a resigned sadness in this alumnus.

My memory of Pitt-Oakland and Johnstown (I attended each) is of an incredibly impoverished social and intellectual undergraduate experience. The hallmark of Pitt in my mind will always be its stingy neglect of its cash-cow undergraduate programs everywhere. The exchange of letters only refreshes and reinforces my memory.

It must seem mystifying to Pitt officials how other universities manage to leaven zesty quality into their undergraduate experiences while Pitt remains as cliched and stale as, well, yesterday's bread. And none of these universities — Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State or Toronto for example (all of which depend on government appropriations) — seem to sacrifice their growing reputations as research engines in the process.

Does the provost really believe he has been generous when he notes that the average increase in the operating budget at Johnstown College from 1993 through 1999 has been a whopping 7,428 dollars and 57 cents per year? Does the Johnstown College faculty really think it is on track when it is impossible to identify one academic strong suit for the institution, not even as a goal? And the whole idea of Oakland, with its Cathedral of Learning and other hulks, lecturing Johnstown on a gilded physical plant is preposterous.

After Pitt, I was fortunate to go on to other, more enriching university experiences. I must admit over the years I have provided only intermittent support for Pitt and perhaps it would be more productive to put my bitterness aside. But enthusiasm wanes when I read that the silliness that caused Pitt to fail me in the 1970s has not changed over two decades. For the sake of Pitt undergraduates yet to come, quit gossiping about which fraternity did what, or how many pennies fell into which pot, and get on with the business of teaching and enrichment. You might be surprised at how rewarding that is.

Eugene L. Donati

Class of 1975


UPJ needs adequate funds to maintain undergrad programs

To the editor:

In response to our complaint about gross underfunding of the Johnstown campus (University Times, Feb. 18, 1999), Provost James Maher incorrectly asserts that the FY97 subvention provided to UPJ by the University was over $5.4 million. According to Pitt's own Planning and Budgeting Committee, the correct figure is $3.3 million. That number is explicitly identified, on page 70 of the Revenue and Cost Attribution Study, as the "Total Subvention." It is obtained by subtracting the college's $1.3 million cash surplus from $4.6 million in Pittsburgh costs that are attributed to UPJ through various accounting procedures.

In our previous letter, we incorrectly stated that UPJ educates 11 percent of all students at all Pitt campuses, including grad students. The correct number is 10 percent. Now, 10 percent of the FY97 Commonwealth allocation to the University's general operating fund was $13.4 million. The salient comparison therefore is between $3.3 million and $13.4 million. These numbers are not in the same ballpark. Unless education is just a small sideline at the University of Pittsburgh, how can UPJ be responsible for 10 percent of the students and receive only 2.5 percent of the state subsidy?

Of what possible relevance is Maher's long list of specific monies given to UPJ by the University? He might as well include every dollar we spend, because formally the University provides us with our entire budget. It would be equally relevant for us to enumerate every student's tuition and fees, collected in Johnstown, that go to Pittsburgh.

And what about our pretty campus? Pitt has precious little of its own money tied up here. The land on which the buildings stand was donated by a coal company. Initial construction was financed by federal loans and grants, and by millions of dollars donated locally. Dorms are paid for, long-term, by student rents. Most other facilities were built with state money allocated specifically for those projects, or were bestowed on UPJ by generous benefactors.

What UPJ desperately needs, and what the Oakland administrators seem determined to withhold, is consistent funding of operating costs at a level adequate to maintain quality undergraduate programs.

Allan Walstad

UPJ Physics Department

David F. Ward

UPJ English Department

On behalf of the Committee to Save UPJ


Trustees: Don't be swayed by protesters' tantrums

To the editor:

The recent demonstration held at the University of Pittsburgh to protest the withholding of health benefits to "same-sex partners" will certainly provoke many comments; here are mine.

Organizations provide health benefits to husbands and wives of employees in the enlightened belief that such coverage is beneficial to married people and their children, and indirectly to the organization. Beyond this lies the assumption that the family is the cornerstone of a civilized society and that what benefits the family benefits the community as a whole.

People who are unwilling to make the long-term commitment of marriage, or who have not yet made it, are of course protected by the laws that apply to every citizen. They have no right to claim for themselves the special benefits that are associated with the responsibilities, often heavy ones, of marriage and child-rearing. To assert that a homosexual relationship, even a prolonged one, is equivalent to marriage is to talk nonsense; the thrust of such claims is to undermine the institution of marriage itself, with the sometimes difficult growing into adulthood that it requires.

It is not easy to be an adult. The alternative is to be permanently fixed in the instant-gratification mode of the infant and the pre-adolescent. The signs and chants and disruptiveness of the Pitt protesters are revealing of arrested intellectual and psychological development: The Pitt trustees are not willing to give them what they demand, hence the trustees are accused of "homophobia" and of "hate." One is put in mind of spoiled children who want what they want when they want it and who interpret any refusal as a sign of arbitrariness, unfairness, meanness: "Mommy/Daddy hates me." Frequently the hatred is on the other side.

The trustees at Pitt and other universities should not be swayed by such tantrums. If they can keep their heads while all around them are losing theirs, they will be behaving as adults mindful of the responsibilities entrusted to them–real trustees, in fact.

Barbara N. Sargent-Baur

Professor Emerita

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