Forum attendees caution that new SVC needs to represent all six health sciences schools


At the first pair of forums to gather public opinion on hiring a replacement for Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences/School of Medicine Dean Arthur Levine, faculty and staff showed concern that the selection committee consider the needs of all six health sciences schools and more diverse candidates (including possibly a non-physician).

Some attendees also felt the committee should still consider splitting the jobs between two people.

“I wanted to point out that whoever takes this new position has to know more than just medicine,” said Linda Frank, an infectious diseases and microbiology faculty member in the Graduate School of Public Health. “They have to know about nursing, about rehabilitation science, about pharmacy, about all the health sciences. So, it's not just about medicine because we are now in an interdisciplinary, an interprofessional focus for health care. No one discipline is able to take care of people, and there has to be much collaboration.” 

Nathan Urban, vice provost for graduate studies, said that an ideal candidate also would have experience in working with subjects outside of the health sciences, suggesting the committee consider “someone who has a track record of thinking about health sciences in a way that extends beyond the schools of the health sciences, engaging with other parts of the campus, both in a research mission and for the educational mission.”

Olivera Finn, immunology faculty member in the School of Medicine and a member of the search committee, noted that she recently had the chance to address a social gathering of medical students who were particularly concerned about the school’s next dean.

“I was especially cornered by women,” Finn said.

“They are tired of all these white old men,” she said, indicating the dozen paintings of previous deans on the wall of the school’s lecture room, where the forum was held.

She noted that she was also on the selection committee two decades earlier, which helped to hire Levine. Back then, there were certainly women who were more than capable of doing the job, she said, however, “we could not put up a woman candidate who had a track record of leadership. It is 20 years later and we should have a much bigger choice.”

Provost Ann Cudd — the search committee chair and host of the forums — reported that the search committee will consult with diversity and inclusion specialists in health care. “The search firm (Isaacson Miller) was chosen for their track records in this regard as well,” she said, adding that each candidate will be asked for their history in this area as well.

Victoria Hornyak, physical therapy faculty member in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, brought recommendations from Pitt’s Working Group for Interprofessional Education, which she chairs. The group hoped the new senior vice chancellor would “support a formal, funded center for interprofessional education here at Pitt,” with a formal curriculum that requires “a minimum level of participation for all the students in the health sciences,” including significant space and technology “to really unite the schools of the health sciences in a better way.”

Challenged to consider splitting the position into two jobs, Cudd responded: “That’s certainly an issue that we would like to hear your feedback on,” while cautioning that Chancellor Patrick Gallagher thinks the posts shouldn’t be split.

“We believe we will get the very best candidate if the two positions are together,” she said, adding that the committee would be developing a job description to guide the selection, and that, if the jobs were divided, “we would have to start over.”  She also noted that the search that eventually hired Levine failed at least twice beforehand, when trying to hire two people for his jobs. “It was only when the positions were put together” that the search was finally successful, Cudd said.

Medical school faculty at Faculty Assembly have favored the split in an earlier votes, mostly because of ethical concerns. 

Sheila Alexander, an acute and tertiary care faculty member in the School of Nursing, echoed the sentiment of others at the forum by noting that the combined jobs can sometimes create “conflict of interest or potential or perceived conflict of interest,” possibly placing the needs of the School of Medicine above issues central to the other five health sciences schools.

Asked whether the dean of the medical school needed to be a physician, Cudd said the committee’s hiring charge in this area was “not explicit,” positing that someone with a Ph.D., whose work had been primarily in a medical school, might be an eligible candidate. Levine, she said, often described his job as requiring “a great judge of talent,” which is something a Ph.D. could certainly accomplish, Cudd said.

Other concerns voiced at the forums included:

  • Pitt’s close association with UPMC. Speakers noted Levine’s replacement should make certain that the larger community realizes Pitt’s own impact on their lives and understands that the current health insurance dispute between UPMC and Highmark may interfere with Pitt’s public image and fundraising.
  • Continued support for the Health Sciences Library System. HSLS Director Barbara Epstein said Levine had provided “tremendous support and tremendous latitude” for HSLS to expand resources and services. “I think it’s really important to continue to have the resources and encouragement” for HSLS’s future, she said.
  • Placing more of an emphasis on education and seeking more funding for the educational missions of the health sciences schools.
  • Hiring someone with an understanding of business.

The third and final forum will be at 8 a.m. June 21 in Scaife Hall Lecture Room 6.

Cudd said the committee will take six to 10 months to complete its work. They hope to create a position profile by mid-July, then vet the candidates who apply, producing a small pool for the chancellor’s final decision.

Marty Levine and Donovan Harrell are writers for the University Times.