Speaking Out

Isolating or Insulating?

We owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues on the Medical School Faculty for their strong stand on behalf of faculty consultation in the matter of proposals for reorganization of the Health System. While faculty in School of Medicine departments would be most impacted by such proposals, they should not stand alone in this matter. The entire University faculty, and particularly the richly interwoven scientific community at Penn, will be significantly affected by any reorganization undertaken--whatever its form. Any proposed plan risks isolating our medical colleagues from the academic mainstream, in the name of insulating the rest of us from the budgetary risks facing their clinical affiliates. But we also have a need and responsibility to examine proposed changes for their impact on the overall academic mission of the University.

The pragmatic among us will acknowledge that, in the past, resources derived from clinical activities at HUP and the School of Medicine's Academic Research and Development Fund have permitted significant funding for University-wide activities which has benefitted many academic programs. Are we prepared to acknowledge that the new HMO-driven health care economics make that no longer possible? Are we sure that a plan to legally separate clinical care activities from academic activities would indeed yield a financial "firewall" for the University?

Those of us who focus more on the academic status of the University will recognize that the close research and teaching links between Medical School faculty and non-medical faculty have propelled our advance to the top tier among major research universities. Are we prepared to endorse any plan which would force our clinical faculty to switch allegiance to a financially independent health care system at the expense of their interactions with the rest of the University?

These are issues which deserve not only faculty consultation but also extensive faculty deliberation. It seems appropriate to ask the Academic Planning and Budget Committee, under the guidance of the Provost, to consider these matters in depth, and to present a report to the faculty outlining the major options for dealing with the current financial crisis in Penn's health care system and the drawbacks and benefits of each. This is, after all, precisely what the Academic Planning and Budget Committee was designed for.

Tomorrow's meeting of the Faculty Senate (3 p.m. at 102 Chemistry) should provide an ideal opportunity to discuss these issues.

--Phoebe Leboy, Professor of Biochemistry

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines.

Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Eds.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 23, February 29, 2000