Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

September 12, 2002


Three years ago a piece I wrote appeared in this space (University Times, Sept. 30, 1999) devoted in large part to the way university faculty were portrayed in several novels. In none were faculty portrayed positively and to some extent faculty were held up to ridicule.

Since then I have read a number of other novels, including at least one by David Lodge, that do not put faculty in a favorable light. Several deal with the proclivity of faculty to attend conferences in exotic locales, at the expense of others. These conferences are often pictured as providing opportunities for adultery, excessive alcohol consumption and illegal drug use, and other undesirable activities.

On the other hand, I read almost every day in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about academic conferences at which papers are presented on topics such as the application of new techniques of scientific inquiry, the development of new treatments for the sick and injured, and the recognition of social and economic factors that influence the daily lives of many people.

What accounts for the differences between the descriptions of conferences in the novels and the press? Perhaps the newspaper articles are written by reporters who are not privy to the sex, alcohol and drug use, if any, that take place in conjunction with the reported meetings. Or, perhaps such conduct is irrelevant to the news story and thus not reported. Still another thought is that the reporters will retain such material to use when they attempt to write the great American novel.

Further interest of mine in conferences and meetings, beyond the literary, was prompted by some casually obtained bits of information. Recently I realized that a host of academic and other types of university administrators attend a great number of meetings of organizations devoted to their particular spheres of responsibility. For example, there is a least one meeting yearly of associate or vice deans of public health schools. The most recent was held in Banff this summer. Department chairpersons in one professional school (and it may be true for others) meet with their counterparts at other universities twice yearly, once nationally and once on a state basis.

Most readers are aware that university chancellors and presidents meet. For example, Chancellor Nordenberg attends a meeting of the chief executives of the member universities of the Big East Conference, held in conjunction with the Big East basketball championship tournament in New York in March. Also, because Pitt is a member of the Association of American Universities, he attends meetings of the chief executives of institutions that belong to that organization.

There are also meetings of heads of academic health centers, chief university academic officers such as our provost, law school deans, and the list goes on.

There also are many non-academic administrators, such as those involved with fund raising, alumni relations, student health services, student affairs, human resources, government relations, public safety, public affairs, facilities management, as well as university personnel with titles such as treasurer, controller, in-house legal counsel, registrar — all of whom have associations that hold professional meetings. Some groups are national organizations with regional and state chapters, all of which hold yearly meetings.

The University apparently spends a considerable amount of money sending administrative personnel to meetings of their professional or trade associations. But one position in the university administrative and governance structure apparently does not fall into any professional organization: To my knowledge there is no association for elected leaders within universities. I believe I would have benefited greatly during my three years as president of the University Senate if I had had the opportunity to exchange information and views with those holding similar positions at other universities. It would have been useful to learn how elected leaders at other institutions deal with matters such as excessive institutional secrecy, find ways to have their initiatives taken seriously by administration, as well as how they measured their effectiveness in university affairs.

It would be beneficial to institutions if their elected leaders had an opportunity to exchange information and views. A meeting of such leaders in the AAU institutions might prove particularly desirable in dealing with issues common to most, if not all, of its member institutions. I wonder whether this lack of association opportunities for elected leaders represents simply an oversight, or whether it is a reflection of top university leadership's view that facilitating elected leaders getting together might stimulate activities contrary to the "best" interests of the universities.

Since I do not expect or desire to serve again as president of the University Senate, if such an association of elected leaders were created I would not be able to benefit by making a trip to an exotic locale at university expense. Thus, I have no personal stake in the matter.

I am interested in readers' thoughts about the establishment of an association of elected university leaders to facilitate the sharing of information, ideas and experiences.

Leave a Reply