BUSINESS (NOT) AS USUAL
TO PITT'S BOARD OF TRUSTEES--OR IS IT? J. WRAY CONNOLLY
EXPLORES CONNECTION BETWEEN BUSINESS AND ACADEME.
But beneath the placid exterior is a passion for achievement. Simply said, J. Wray Connolly does not suffer mediocrity or pretense. And so, in one of his first acts after his election as board chairman in 1995, he commissioned an outside evaluation of Pitt. The five-person evaluation committee, headed by academic consultant James Fisher, interviewed more than 200 people in preparing its 126-page report.
The findings prompted much debate in the community and in the media. Among the Fisher committee's recommendations were those of strengthening Pitt's admission requirements, streamlining the University's governance, and reinvigorating faculty and student morale. "The problems that were pointed out in the Fisher report are real issues," Connolly says. "But I can tell from the reaction from the community that there were no real surprises. Everything that was in there were things that we already knew or suspected or were concerned about."
And while the board has already taken action on many of the recommendations (including more stringent academic requirements for incoming freshmen and taking a second look at the University's governance), Connolly emphasizes that the Fisher report is only one part of the puzzle, "a single piece in a collage of information as we try to get a focus on where we were and where we're going." Not all of Fisher's recommendations will be implemented, including the suggestion to downsize the search committee for the new chancellor. "I'm certainly not going to disband the search committee now and start over," he says. But, despite these differences of opinion, the Fisher report was made public in its entirety--warts, successes, and all the rest. "I learned a long time ago that if you want to get a real perspective on your business, you need to go outside and get people who have no axe to grind and no benefit from telling a story one way or another," Connolly says. "And what we wanted is what we got--a no-holds-barred, call-it-like-you-see-it document. There was no attempt made to edit the results."
Mixing business practices within the groves of academe might strike some as a bad combination. "There seems to be a feeling within the academic environment that there should be no similarity between an institution of higher learning and a business," Connolly says. "But I think there are a lot of similarities. Both have a mission, both have customers. Both need to be efficient and effective. Both need to be well organized and have a plan. And both have to maintain financial viability if they plan on furthering their cause. So I don't see a hell of a lot of difference between the two.
"We need to define what kind of student we want to turn out from this institution. These people are going to be earning their living in the twenty-first century. It'll be a very small world, a global economy, and we need to recognize that. And we will."