Faculty Senate: Special Meeting Coverage
The Special Meeting of the Faculty Senate was called to order by Senate Chair Dr. Larry Gross who said that the "issues that brought us here are important issues but the discussion of these issues are not the beginning or the end." Approximately 40 faculty members attended the meeting on March 1 to learn more about the status of the Health System and the School of Medicine and their impact on the rest of Penn, and to hear about the recommendations of the School of Medicine Faculty-2000 project.
Provost Robert Barchi spoke about how the Health System and School of Medicine had been growing and expanding, building up a cash reserve over the past decade. Then in the last two years much of that changed. Dr. Barchi introduced Dr. Peter Traber, the interim dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of UPHS, whom he said is stepping in at a difficult time. While the first six months of this fiscal year have been favorable for UPHS, according to Dr. Barchi, there is a harder budget target for the third and fourth quarters. There has been tremendously improved performance but the list of things that still needs to be done in the next 12-18 months is extensive, he said.
Dr. Barchi said that the Blue Ribbon Committee of Trustees, along with several members of the administration, who were also on the committee, as advice resources, looked at how to create an agile and flexible system in response to a tough economic market in Philadelphia and to mitigate health system financial swings on the financial well being of the University. He said the committee's report led to the February 1 Medical Faculty Senate meeting. They issued "general recommendations" which the Provost said would not result in any further actions until there has been more consulting with the faculty of the School.
Dr. Barchi stressed that there would be "no Health System without the faculty of the School." He also noted that the Health System has funded construction of BRB I and BRB II/III, along with many renovations in other buildings and a dozen endowed chairs. Built into the School of Medicine's budget is the expectation of a transfer of funds in the current and future years but these funds will be difficult to identify during the next few years.
Arthur Anderson & Co. is conducting a detailed evaluation of the School, with a committee that includes members of the central administration staff and staff of the School of Medicine. Their initial recommendations are expected within the next month. The negative impact is that the deterioration of the financial system of the Health System affects the bond rating of the University, since the University underwrites the Health System. "The positive impact is that the bond rating of the Health System is buoyed because the University is at the other end of the seesaw." The University will disburse loans of up to $100 million to help the Health System and the School of Medicine. Dr. Barchi said he expected that the School, which is one of the top medical schools in the country, will be able to close its deficit this year. He described the subvention situation as it impacts the financial situation of the rest of the University, citing that UPHS contributes far more than it takes from the University. He said the University has been a net beneficiary but will not be so in the next five years as much as it has been in the past.
The Provost then entertained questions and comments. Dr. Anthony Tomazinis, professor of city & regional planning, expressed concerns about the trustees' committee; producing a real consultation process in the University and the desire for a collective effort to create solutions. The Provost responded that the Trustees take their fiduciary responsibility seriously and they have a right to constitute a committee. Dr. Barchi said that he is in favor of open discussion of ideas although it is sometimes difficult in such a large enterprise as the Health System where mergers and acquisitions take place.
Dr. Stephen Gluckman, of the department of medicine, said that he is relieved and excited about the changes in communications that have accompanied the transitions in the School's leadership, describing it as a "180 degree change in style."
Law Professor Frank Goodman wanted to know what the Provost thought of the notion that people at other medical schools are circulating: that one of the three major health systems in Philadelphia will need to close its doors. The Provost said, "There are many more beds in Philadelphia hospitals than are needed. It is essential to be in a competitive posture to make a turnaround."
Dr. James Saunders, chair of the Faculty-2000 Project, then reported on the recommendations of the four working groups which comprise 122 members of the faculty. He expects their final reports shortly. There are three types of recommendations: changes in School policy, changes in University policy and those that impact on the University's Handbook. He said a major questionnaire was sent to the School of Medicine faculty to determine attitudes; 60% have already been returned but have not yet been analyzed. He said that 13% of the School's faculty is involved, for a total of 158 faculty in all projects, such as the survey. The Faculty-2000 Project deals with a variety of issues that concern the faculty, from the need to mentor women and minorities, to the Internet-based programs and Distance Learning; from retirement planning to caps on the clinician educator track. He noted that it did not however, focus on financial matters. Dr. Saunders said that a formula has to be reached to resolve the risk to the University without "throwing out the baby with the bathwater."
After Dr. Saunders' remarks there were questions and comments from additional faculty members including, Dr. Phoebe Leboy, professor of biochemistry in the Dental School, who expressed the concern that, "part of the pressure to increase the faculty size was to expand facilities" and asked, "is it necessary to staff them with clinician educators in the standing faculty?" She proposed that "those individuals whose primary responsibility is patient care need not be CE faculty." She offered her thanks to Dr. Saunders for his efforts on behalf of the faculty; those in attendance joined in applause.
Law Professor Howard Lesnick, asked, "what does it mean to be more efficient, layoff nurses and hire LPNs?" Dr. Saunders replied, "Nobody has the formula yet."
Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 24, March 7, 2000