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January 23, 2003

Some employees join challenge to chancellor

Pitt employees have joined students in pledging money to the “Chancellor Challenge,” a protest/fundraiser to benefit the Pitt Program Council’s Endowed Book Fund — but only if Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg donates at least 14 percent of his new $390,000 salary to that fund.

Pitt’s Institutional Advancement office announced this week that Nordenberg and Provost James V. Maher each have committed at least $100,000 to Pitt’s capital campaign, including recent gifts of $50,000 each. See accompanying story.

The Chancellor Challenge began with a Jan. 10 Pitt News column by Dave Hartman, who offered to donate 14 percent or more of the nearly $8,000 he earns as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief back to Pitt if Nordenberg returns his 13.9 percent ($47,500) salary increase.

Hartman later expanded his challenge to accept pledges from others.

According to the Pitt News web site, 107 individuals and groups had pledged a total of $12,095.40 to the challenge as of 4:44 p.m. yesterday (Jan. 22).

Among them is Stacey Nicholson, a staff member in the School of Nursing’s student services office. She pledged the 2 percent salary increase ($490) she’s getting this year.

“I’ve always believed that if enough people are willing to make a sacrifice, they can change things,” Nicholson said.

pledging] is to help change the way that salary money is distributed at this University, so staff receive better raises in the future.

“I believe that Chancellor Nordenberg does a lot for this University,” Nicholson added, “but he does have a hell of a support staff.”

Carol Hodgkiss, office manager in the nursing school’s Learning Resources Center, said she pledged $10 to the challenge because she thinks it’s a worthy cause.

“I would never pledge money just to send a message or embarrass the chancellor. I believe that we need to do all that we can to help the students,” said Hodgkiss, whose son attends Pitt. She said his book bills exceed $400 each semester.

“All of us — you, me, the chancellor — work for the students, really,” Hodgkiss said. “If you want to use the corporate model that our trustees seem to like so much, the students are the University’s shareholders.”

In addition to raising the chancellor’s pay by $47,500 to $390,000, Pitt trustees lasts month created a new bonus program that will give Nordenberg $75,000 a year through June 2007, if he doesn’t leave or get fired before then. Five other Pitt officers received raises ranging from 5.4 percent to 10.8 percent and will get bonuses of $50,000 per year under the same conditions.

Hodgkiss said she wouldn’t begrudge Pitt executives their recent raises and new bonuses if this year’s tuition hike (14 percent) had not been so high, if some staff hadn’t been laid off or cut from full- to part-time status, and if employees weren’t likely to be facing increases in their health insurance premiums beginning this summer, when Pitt’s current contract with UPMC Health System runs out.

“The perk that really infuriates me is that senior administrators get $5,000 for health care expenses not covered by their basic insurance,” said Hodgkiss, who chairs the Staff Association Council’s benefits committee. “Those people can easily afford co-pays, but many staff members can’t.”

Pitt News editor-in-chief Hartman said that one anonymous donor, who claimed to be a long-term staff employee, sent $5 in cash. “This person wrote that $5 was better than pledging a percentage of his or her salary, because even 14 percent of zero is zero,” Hartman said. The staffer claimed to be among those Pitt staff employees who had reached the maximum salary for their job classifications, and so did not get raises this year.

At least one person who has pledged anonymously to the Chancellor Challenge is a faculty member, Hartman said. The faculty member pledged $100 but stipulated that she didn’t want her name to appear in print for fear of jeopardizing her chances for tenure, according to Hartman.

— Bruce Steele

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