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December 5, 2002

Recommendations made to improve Pitt's planning and budget system

The University Planning and Budgeting System (UPBS) still has its problems, according to the latest evaluation of the 10-year-old system.

Surveys of the full Pitt faculty — as well as administrators, faculty, staff and students who serve on system committees — found that many people here don't know about UPBS and its activities, and some who are knowledgeable about the system don't think it's working very well.

But James G. Holland, who chaired the committee that evaluated UPBS this year, said the system is worth fixing.

"The system is a good one, but it needs some improvement," the psychology professor said. "It needs to allow for more flexibility and a better flow of information, most particularly information to the faculty and staff about how planning and budgeting is getting done."

By bringing together Pitt administrators, faculty, staff and students to serve on budgeting and long-range planning committees, UPBS is intended to increase accountability, openness and sharing of information, and participation in the decision-making process.

According to the document that outlines the system, UPBS also is supposed to promote cost-effective use of resources, fair and open appraisals of job performance, and improvements in programs and services.

The full UPBS document is available at the Office of the Provost web site at: The report of the UPBS evaluation committee, which was convened by Provost James Maher, makes several recommendations, including the following:

* Faculty, staff and students should get open access to "relevant information" so they can participate in planning and budgeting decisions. However, the report added, there may be times when, in the interests of the University, administrators may not be able to share information with school- or department-level planning and budgeting committees (PBCs) or the University-wide UPBC.

In a report on the UPBS evaluation during the Nov. 26 Faculty Assembly meeting, Holland cited what he called the "entirely appropriate" secrecy maintained by the University's medical rates committee, a group of staff, faculty and administrators that is advising the senior administration during the current negotiation of a new health insurance contract here. Publicizing details of potential vendors' bids could undercut Pitt's bargaining position and result in higher premiums for the University as well as for individual employees, Holland argued.

More problematic was the case of the Petersen Events Center's cost overrun, according to UPBC members interviewed by Holland's committee. The overrun was covered by a transfer of $15 million in state funds "from other possible, but unspecified, uses" here, the committee noted. UPBC was informed of (but not consulted about) the move, confidentially. The rest of the University community — including members of faculty and staff governance groups — learned of the matter later through press reports.

The evaluation committee wrote: "The UPBC is often not involved in plans or changes in past plans; and frequently information is kept confidential and does not appear in the minutes," which are published in the University Times.

"Openness in decision making is a major purpose in the creation of the UPBC," the committee noted.

"Although all [UPBC interviewees] agreed that occasionally confidentiality is necessary, secrecy hinders openness in decision making. It is thought that the reluctance to share information may account for some of the decline in planning items on the [UPBC] agenda. In addition, when Senate committee chairpersons or officers are given confidential information, are they then compromised in their ability to deal with that issue even if they have relevant information from other sources?"

* To overcome "widespread" ignorance of UPBS and unit-level PBCs, the presidents of Pitt's University Senate and Staff Association Council (SAC) should regularly report on UPBC activities to Faculty Assembly and SAC, respectively, and the provost should report on UPBC at least annually to Senate Council.

"At unit and departmental levels, the appropriate comparable person should likewise regularly report to the faculty and staff on the activities of the relevant PBC," the evaluation committee added.

* UPBS is an "academically oriented" system and PBCs are inappropriate for business and nonacademic administrative units — the objectives of which "are not internal to the unit but enable the effective functioning of the University as a whole," the committee concluded.

Therefore, the committee recommended, "business and administrative units need not have PBCs but should continue to have liaison members on University Senate standing committees. The president of the University Senate shall report to the UPBC on matters that arise in these committees when they are relevant to the concerns of the UPBC."

In his report to Faculty Assembly, Holland said Pitt administrators should not be blamed for the UPBS's failings.

"Planning and budgeting committees have members, period," he said. "They don't have different classes of membership. Sometimes, there's a tendency to respond to a perceived weakness as being an accusation against the administration. That is not the way this should be viewed. The administration, faculty, staff and students are all in this together."

Senate vice president Nicholas Bircher, of the School of Medicine, pointed out that "the single largest structural change in the medical school in recent years, the creation of the UPP [University of Pittsburgh Physicians practice plan] bypassed the UPBS entirely. I think the system really does need some work, and this report can serve as a springboard for that."

The evaluation by Holland's committee was the second comprehensive review of the UPBS. The first, conducted during the 1995-96 academic year, likewise found that the system basically was functioning as intended, although some survey respondents complained that information wasn't being shared and that some PBCs weren't meeting regularly or distributing meeting minutes as required.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 8

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