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October 24, 1996

Council defeats effort to remove University's name from UPMC

A motion proposing to take the "UP" out of "UPMC" was pronounced dead at the Oct. 14 Senate Council meeting.

Council members voted overwhelmingly against the motion, which was first proposed at Council's May 13 meeting by linguistics professor Christina Paulston.

Her motion called on Senate Council to urge Pitt administrators and trustees to take away the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) System, Inc.'s permission to use the words "University of Pittsburgh" in its name. The UPMC System, Inc. is the parent corporation for Presbyterian University Hospital. It is a separate legal entity from Pitt, although the two collaborate extensively.

Presby's Board of Directors (about half of whom are appointed by Pitt) adopted the UPMC name in June 1993, with the blessing of Pitt's senior administration. But the University reserved the right to revoke the UMPC System, Inc.'s permission to use the words "University of Pittsburgh" in its name at any time, upon 90 days' written notice.

Paulston's term as a Senate Council member expired during the summer, but she attended last week's Council meeting and repeated her previous argument that confusion over the Pitt-UPMC relationship hurts the University's fundraising and public image.

According to Paulston, many people who otherwise might support Pitt refrain from doing so, either because: * They are alienated by UPMC policies, or * They see the medical center purchasing other hospitals, or undertaking major construction projects, and erroneously conclude that any university wealthy enough to do such things doesn't need their help.

At the May 13 Senate Council meeting, other professors said Pitt would be prudent to distance itself from the medical center at a time of great instability in health care funding. At that meeting, Council tabled Paulston's motion pending the release of a Board of Trustees report spelling out the Pitt-UPMC relationship.

The board's health sciences committee released the report in June. The report acknowledged that the complexity of the Pitt-UPMC relationship "has generated confusion among many in the University community and the general public. Part of the confusion stems from the use of the term, 'University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.'" Adding to the confusion is the existence of a third entity, the UPMC Division, which is a division of the University through which the UPMC System contracts for management services.

No one at the Oct. 14 Council meeting denied that many people misunderstand the relationships among Pitt, its UPMC Division and the UPMC System, Inc.

But some indicated that the University benefits, rather than suffers, from the confusion.

Betsy Porter, director of Pitt's Admissions and Financial Aid office, said the accomplishments of UPMC scientists (many of them Pitt faculty members) give the University "a reputation and a visibility that we wouldn't have otherwise, especially outside the state." Mark Friedberg, a Pitt Student Government Board representative on Senate Council, said he believed that the fame of UPMC programs "can only benefit the reputation of the University of Pittsburgh." Friedberg added, "I think if you asked a majority of Pitt medical students, they'd say they're very happy with the [Pitt-UPMC] connection." Two other Council members, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Staff Association Council President Brian Hart, agreed that Pitt should not downplay its ties to the medical center just because the relationship confuses the general public.

Nordenberg likened the situation to public misconceptions of Pitt as a fully "public" institution, when in fact state funds account for just 18 percent of the University's current budget. "I don't think the solution to that [confusion about Pitt's state funding status] is to renounce the money that we get from the state and to become private. And I fear that this proposal [by Paulston] takes that kind of approach," the chancellor said.

Engineering school Dean Gerald Holder noted that his school has launched a $6 million fundraising drive, and said: "I think the disassociation of ourselves from UPMC would irreparably harm our ability to raise those funds." Driving a wedge between UPMC and the University "would be a disaster for the School of Engineering, and I think it would be a public relations disaster" for Pitt, Holder stated.

He said the school's new bioengineering program and its Ph.D. program benefit from UPMC research grants to faculty and graduate students, among other services. "Just about any kind of support you can think of," the dean said, "we're getting it from UPMC." "You're being bought," Paulston interjected.

Later, shortly before Council rejected her motion, Paulston said she'd never expected it to pass. "I just wanted to raise these issues publicly," she said.

The only Senate Council member who voted for the motion was chemistry doctoral student John Stephens, who represents the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Organization on Council. Stephens said the advantages of Pitt's links to UPMC — wider name recognition, the reflected glory the University gets for medical center accomplishments, etc. — are outweighed by disadvantages such as negative P.R. fallout from UPMC business moves.

"I think the University should be able to protect its good name, and right now we can't do that because of the medical center's use of the words, 'University of Pittsburgh,'" Stephens said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 5

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