By DONOVAN HARRELL
In an impromptu straw poll, the majority of Faculty Assembly members on Feb. 6 voted to support the idea of splitting the positions of senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine — both of which are now held by Arthur Levine, who announced last month he will be stepping down when his replacement is found.
After voicing numerous ethical concerns, 30 members voted to support splitting these two top positions in Pitt’s largest programs. Four members abstained, one of whom cited not knowing enough about the positions.
Senate President Chris Bonneau said in his report that, per the guidelines for searches for senior administrators, two faculty members in the School of Medicine, two faculty members from other schools in the health sciences and one faculty member from the provost’s office will be on the search committee.
A memo will be sent out “soon” detailing the process further, he added.
Dr. Abbe De Vallejo, an associate professor of pediatrics & immunology, was the first to raise concerns about the search to fill Levine’s roles right after Bonneau finished his report.
He said that he’s had conversations many faculty in the various schools in the health sciences, who believe the positions should be split.
“I think, at least in my opinion, it is a conflict of interest given that so many issues are affecting the School of Medicine — and secondly, the vice chancellor’s office encompasses not only the School of Medicine but several other schools in the health sciences,” De Vallejo said.
Bonneau said as soon as he heard Levine was stepping down, he told Chancellor Pat Gallagher that “it was my sense that it would be beneficial to split these two positions.”
“I think particularly, from my perspective, for due process concerns from the faculty, that there are a lot of times where decisions from the School of Medicine get appealed and … then you’re appealing to basically the same person,” Bonneau said. “And so I think … there are some some issues there.”
Bonneau said he had a “hunch” that the positions would stay combined, however.
“And the reasons why I think it’s going to be a combined position are: it’s consistent with how our peer institutions do it, who have similar arrangements; (and University administrators) think they’ll be able to … get better quality candidates by having it combined and as concern about a singular interface with UPMC.”
Bonneau added that the search committee process hasn’t started yet since faculty representatives haven’t been chosen. He then opened up the floor for further comments.
And several members representing the health sciences obliged.
Dr. Richard Henker, a professor of nurse anesthesia at the School of Nursing, agreed with De Vallejo that the positions should be split, citing multiple conversations he’s had with his colleagues.
Dr. Barry Gold, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, joined the others in supporting the split. Gold said he’s been to universities where the roles were divided, and one university’s faculty rejected the idea of combining the two roles.
“All you have to do is think about the fact that you could have, possibly at some point, the dean of Education also be the provost,” Gold said. “And I’m sure no one in this School of Arts and Sciences or in any of the schools would think that was reasonable. And there is a financial conflict of interest because of how many … indirect costs flow into the different schools or into the provost’s office. So the dean has an incentive to put resources into places where that money is going to flow into the School of Medicine or resources that go into the other schools and Health Sciences.”
De Vallejo later added that he thought there was more of an administrative conflict of interest involved than a financial one. He also said there could be more value in having multiple perspectives in these roles.
“Of course, I also recognize the fact that having one person as the senior vice chancellor for health sciences and (dean of) the School of Medicine would be an easier way to negotiate things with UPMC,” De Vallejo said. “I would like to say the University of Pittsburgh is not a branch of UPMC.”
Dr. James Becker, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and neurology, said that if the positions were split, the division of authority would also have to be closely scrutinized.
“The future of academic medicine … is actually at a tipping point,” Becker said. “And I think that whoever takes over as the (senior vice chancellor) has got to be in the position to look out for the entire spectrum with no actual or perceived conflict of interest, and also having the vision thing for academic medicine. And if they don’t, we’re in trouble.”
After the vote, Bonneau said he’d craft a statement to convey these sentiments to University administrators.
Other topics discussed in the meeting included:
- A report from Gold, the co-chair of the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee, who presented graphs outlining Pitt’s hiring trends across the different schools. Among the notable findings, the School of Medicine, which already has the most faculty among the schools, has seen an overall increase in tenure-stream faculty since 2009.
- Douglas Landsittel, chair of the Educational Policies Committee, told the Assembly that it decided against a firm statement or policy, at the moment, that would require faculty to include mental health resources on their syllabi.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.