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March 8, 2012

Trustees lash out at proposed state cuts

Pitt’s Board of Trustees lashed out at proposed cuts to state support in a pair of resolutions adopted at its Feb. 24 meeting.

In one, the board urged state legislators to reconsider the budget cuts. The other authorized the University’s senior leaders “to take such steps as are necessary to protect the overall quality and strength of the University in the face of a proposed escalation in the withdrawal of state support for the University.” Exactly what actions those might be has yet to be determined, said Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg in a press conference following the board meeting.

“We’re not voluntarily traveling the path to becoming a private university, but with each significant cut to state support we become less public and more private,” Nordenberg said, reiterating comments he made to the House appropriations committee in budget hearings last month. (See Feb. 23 University Times.)

The chancellor said he viewed the board’s move as a call to action, “a recognition that there is an urgency to this situation and a statement by the board that it is committed not only to advocating on behalf of Pitt but also being of help as it can in dealing with the revenue shortfall.”

Cuts outlined

In his report to the board, Nordenberg outlined the cuts Gov. Tom Corbett proposed in his fiscal year 2013 budget.

“For the second successive year, Pitt, along with Pennsylvania’s other public research universities, and public higher education more generally, is being asked to bear a far-more-than-fair share of the reductions required to balance the commonwealth’s budget for the next fiscal year,” Nordenberg said.

The proposed budget would cut Pitt’s general appropriation by 30 percent in addition to the 19 percent reduction Pitt was subjected to last year. In addition, Pitt’s academic medical center funding lines would be cut 10 percent, on top of a 50 percent reduction imposed last year.

“This would reduce our appropriation in absolute dollars to levels that we have not seen since 1987,” the chancellor said, despite the fact that “the overall state budget is three times larger than it was then.” Adjusted for inflation, the University’s appropriation would be reduced to the lowest level since Pitt became a state-related university in 1966, Nordenberg said.

In addition, the chancellor noted, “In late fall our annual capital projects support was cut in half, from $40 million to $20 million, and in January we were subjected to a mid-year cut of 5 percent or $7 million.” Corbett’s proposal also would eliminate the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) program, which funds research through federal tobacco settlement dollars. Pitt’s share has averaged about $9 million annually.

“CURE funding has supported thousands of good-paying, knowledge-based Pennsylvania jobs focused on the goal of improving human health. Using CURE funds, as the budget proposal envisions, to plug a short-term hole in senior care instead of investing them in research infrastructure and scientific innovation will simply maintain the unsustainable status quo in health care,” Nordenberg cautioned.

Citing 17th-century French political and social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation that “the universal and sincere faith that they possess here in the efficaciousness of education seems to be one of the most remarkable features of America,” Nordenberg said, “A faith in education has been one of the distinguishing features of this country. It is one of the forces that helped drive America’s unparalleled record of sustained success. … How tragically ironic it would be to see that long-term faith undermined by short-term fiscal pressures in a year that brings the 225th anniversary of both the structuring of our national government and the chartering of our University. What better way to celebrate those historic anniversaries than by acting on that faith and working to restore more appropriate levels of public support for public higher education, not just for our own good, but for the good of all who follow in the spirit of 1787.”

A call to reverse the cuts

Trustee Sam S. Zacharias, past president of Pitt’s alumni association, presented a resolution opposing the continued erosion of state support for the University. “I’m very concerned about the current situation our University is facing with respect to state funding,” he said, introducing the resolution on behalf of himself and fellow board members who also are alumni association past presidents: Eva Tansky Blum, Brian Generalovich, Robert G. Lovett, F. James McCarl III, Martha Hartle Munsch, Keith E. Schaefer and trustee emeritus J. Roger Glunt.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, stated in part: “The members of the Board of Trustees do hereby reaffirm their belief that further reductions to the University’s state support, as recently proposed, should be eliminated and that the commonwealth should reaffirm its intention to continue working with the University as an important partner in its status as a public state-related university.” It also called for copies of the resolution to be presented to the governor and state House and Senate leaders.

Calling Pitt “one of the finest public research institutions in the world,” Munsch commented: “It is a crown jewel of the commonwealth and I think that this resolution and the sentiments expressed in this resolution are absolutely essential in order to maintain the stature of that institution. The commonwealth, I think, should be nurturing this crown jewel, not making such draconian cuts in its support.”

Board chair Stephen R. Tritch called for the vote by asking board members to stand in support of the measure. The only trustee who remained seated was state Secretary of Education Ronald J. Tomalis, an ex officio, non-voting member of the board.

A call to action

Tritch introduced a second resolution, saying, “In the face of this withdrawal of support of the state, we’re going to have to be even more creative and determined if we want to protect this institution that’s done so much good over the course of 225 years.”

That resolution stated in part: “The Board of Trustees of the University of Pittsburgh hereby directs the senior leadership of the University to take such steps as are necessary to protect the overall quality and strength of the University in the face of a proposed escalation in the withdrawal of state support for the University and, in doing so, to be guided by our continuing quest for excellence in education and research. And be it further resolved that the Board of Trustees stands ready to advise and assist in any way that it can, in addition to exercising its ongoing oversight responsibilities.”

Prior to the board’s vote to approve the resolution, state Secretary of Education Tomalis took issue with wording that cited “an apparent lack of support for public higher education within the current administration.”

He said, “It has been the case that we are in a very difficult budget year. There’s no question as to that situation,” adding that state-funded organizations of all sorts view funding increases as a measure of the administration’s support for their cause.

“This is the governor’s budget proposal in balancing a large number of priorities. The commitment to public higher education is strong in the administration,” Tomalis said, commenting, “If I was a voting member, I would not vote for this resolution.”

Tritch replied, “I think many of us who have seen these kinds of cuts relative to the other things that are being cut may question whether or not we feel that way, but we’ll take that under advisement for our further discussion.”

Trustee John H. Pelusi Jr., chair of the board’s property and facilities committee, backed Tritch’s view, telling Tomalis, “The math doesn’t add up.”

Full text of the resolutions can be found at and

In other business:

• Trustees named a sustainable office and classroom building under construction at Pitt-Greensburg for former campus president Frank A. Cassell.

The building, to be called Frank A. Cassell Hall, was funded through a donation by the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation with other major funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Timken Foundation and federal sources.

The building is to be dedicated this summer and in use by the start of the fall term. The two-story, 16,837 square-foot building will house a computer center, faculty and staff offices, space for computer support and media and instructional technological services, two large classrooms and a student lounge.

Designed to realize 30 percent annual energy savings and 50 percent water savings, a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation is anticipated for the building.

Cassell, UPG’s third president, served in that capacity from 1997 until his retirement in 2007.

Trustees chair Tritch said, “The construction of this building showcases the importance of the regional campuses to serving the needs of our students and naming the building for Frank Cassell is a testament to, and recognition of, his impact on the students and the campus community.”

• The board approved a resolution authorizing the vice provost for Research and the director, associate director(s) and assistant director(s) of the Office of Research to execute documents related to sponsored research and other sponsored programs.

The board in 1989 had authorized the associate provost for Research and the director and assistant director of the Office of Research to execute research-related documents on the University’s behalf.

The resolution reflects that the associate provost for Research title has been changed to vice provost for Research, as well as the addition of the new associate director position in the Office of Research.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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