Pennsylvania’s state legislature appears not to care that the University of Pittsburgh is one of the nation’s elite public universities or whether it remains so in the future. The state’s dollar support for Pitt declined significantly in fiscal year 2002, and to this day remains below the $177.4 million appropriated in FY01. Pitt will receive $176.7 million from the state this year, which is still $700,000 less than seven years ago, even without adjustment for inflation.
To compensate for these deficiencies in state funding, tuition at Pitt for undergraduates in Arts and Sciences has gone from $6,422 per year in FY01 to $12,106 per year in FY08, an 89 percent increase. Pennsylvania now has the dubious distinction of having the most expensive public universities in the United States.
These deficiencies in state funding for Pitt also have had a negative impact on faculty and staff pay raises in recent years, because there are limits to how high tuition can be raised without affecting enrollment. Over half of Pitt’s faculty received pay raises below the inflation rate in both FY06 and FY07 because the raise pool was below the rate of inflation both years. That is not likely to happen this year because inflation was a relatively low 2.5 percent and the FY08 raise pool is 3.5 percent.
Providing faculty and staff with pay raises above the inflation rate should not be dependent on whether inflation happens to be high or low. Yet that is what has occurred in recent years because the state has underfunded Pitt relative to inflation. It will continue to be a problem as long as the state keeps underfunding its public universities. It also could jeopardize Pitt’s status as one of the nation’s elite public universities because salary and benefits are major factors in the retention of talented faculty and staff at universities.
Pitt must remain competitive with other research universities in faculty and staff salaries if it wants to continue to be recognized as an elite public institution. That means finding a way to provide all satisfactorily performing faculty and staff with pay raises above the inflation rate every year, not just in years when inflation is low. This will be a major challenge to our administration in coming years because they cannot rely upon help from the state, and also will face constraints on raising tuition.
I have a suggestion that could help solve this problem for most of our employees: In years when the maintenance of salary component of the annual pay raise is significantly below the inflation rate, the administration should take a small fixed percentage off the top of the annual raise pool (perhaps 10 percent) and distribute it as a flat amount (e.g., $200) to all satisfactorily performing employees.
This inflation-fighting incentive could have its own line item in the budget (like the academic incentives line item), and would be especially beneficial to our lower-paid employees. Moreover, it would be easy to implement, and would help maintain collegial relations between administrators and hard-working lower-paid employees in troubled economic times.
John J. Baker
President of the University Senate.