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March 17, 2011

Pitt community urged to contact legislators

The University took swift action in response to Gov. Tom Corbett’s March 8 budget proposal.

In addition to holding a press conference within three hours of the governor delivering his budget message, by the end of the day the University had contacted alumni and employees with the news.

The administration also posted a web page titled “Pitt’s Progress: Improving Quality While Maximizing Resources in the Face of State Budget Cuts” at The page includes the chancellor’s remarks as well as facts and figures about the University’s value and efforts to economize.

“State support for the University has been eroding over an extended period of time,” Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated in an email to staff. “However, the budget shortfall produced by this proposal — which dramatically reduces forms of state support that have been in place for decades — would impose a particularly severe and unfair burden on our employees, our students and their families. Such reductions, in our view, also will undermine economic growth in Pennsylvania as we move further into an increasingly competitive new century.”

A joint email message to alumni from Governmental Relations and the Pitt Alumni Association encouraged alumni to contact their legislators and the governor about the proposed cuts. “The University has worked successfully to reduce costs and implement efficiencies in employee benefits, energy conservation, strategic purchasing and many other areas,” the message stated. “Even with these efficiencies, the proposed funding reduction will have a dramatic impact on tuition for Pennsylvania students and their families, and for staffing levels, salaries and construction projects.”

John Fedele, associate director of news, said various offices used the chancellor’s statement as the basic message to their respective constituent groups. The audiences that were reached included faculty, staff, students — both undergraduate and graduate — alumni worldwide and the members of the Alumni Legislative Network, Fedele said.

Faculty in the School of Social Work are inviting faculty, staff, students and community members to a forum to discuss the proposed budget cuts and actions that can be taken. The event is set for 5 p.m. today, March 17, in the social work lounge, 2201 Cathedral of Learning.

Paul A. Supowitz, vice chancellor for governmental relations, said he’s been encouraged by the response, both by the University community and legislators in Harrisburg.

“There have been very vocal early reactions from legislators on both sides of the aisle that this higher education cut has to be ameliorated,” he said.

In addition, he said alumni, students and others in the Pitt community have taken action. Supowitz said that although it’s challenging to track how various constituencies have mobilized, he has received copies of letters, emails and other contacts made by alumni and friends of the University in response to the governor’s proposal.

Supowitz said he recently met with student leaders, who he said have a good understanding of the situation and are engaged in taking action on the budget issues.

The annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg, during which faculty, staff, students and alumni visit legislators in Harrisburg on behalf of the University, will take on a magnified importance this year, Supowitz said. Typically 200-250 people make the trip, but Supowitz said he expects more people than usual will mobilize for this year’s Pitt Day, set for April 5.

Almost 200 staff, faculty, students and alumni participated at last year’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg but  the proposed cuts in Pitt’s appropriation are expected to swell this year’s numbers.

Almost 200 staff, faculty, students and alumni participated at last year’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg but the proposed cuts in Pitt’s appropriation are expected to swell this year’s numbers.

“We’ve had lots of early support” in response to the proposed budget cuts, Supowitz said. “But it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Details on Pitt Day in Harrisburg can be found at

Opposition to the proposed higher education cuts also is gaining momentum online and in social media.

• Pitt’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly has posted a petition with links to locate the appropriate legislators at

• The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the faculty and coaches union at the 14 State System of Higher Education schools, announced a new web site has been created to disseminate information on the budget and announce related events including rallies and planned “days of action” on each campus.

The site, which carries the tagline “United we stand, underfunded we fail,” is at

• The PA College Coalition (@PA4Colleges on Twitter) is asking supporters to dress in their college gear and create a video in which they give their reason for backing higher education and spell out why cutting funding is a bad idea.

Participants are asked to post the video on YouTube and link it to the PA College Coalition’s Facebook page at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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