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October 13, 2005

BPC sets agenda for the academic year

The Senate budget policies committee (BPC) has carved out a full agenda for this academic year, including both short- and long-term budget-related issues.

Two issues have been held over from last year, BPC chair Stephen Carr reminded committee members Oct. 7: identifying peer comparison salary groups for faculty at the regional campuses, and considering the budget implications of possible replacement programs for the Semester at Sea (SAS) program.

Regarding regional faculty salary comparisons, Carr said, “I’ll restate our position: This committee does not want to be involved in deciding what those groups should be. But faculty at the regionals should be involved in determining [appropriate groups]. Even though actual salary decisions are not determined by the peer group comparisons, you need a peer group with which to compare salaries. It is useful; otherwise there’s no way of planning. The function of the peer group is to make comparison data visible and to measure progress over time.”

Regarding the SAS program, Pitt’s 24-year relationship with “the floating university” was severed last spring. Committee members pointed out that the decision was made known to the majority of the Pitt community only after the fact.

According to BPC member Philip Wion, in the interest of shared governance, discussing Semester at Sea would have been appropriate at meetings of the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC), an advisory group chaired by the provost that includes administrative, faculty, staff and student representatives who meet in strict confidence.

Long-time budget policies committee members also noted that UPBC meetings have been less frequent over the years and that meetings are beginning later in the term than in past years.

Carr said that UPBC, of which he is a member, had not met yet this term, which he called “a troubling development. By postponing discussion, there is no possibility of contribution to the formative part of budget decisions. I see this as a long-term issue. I want to make it clear that this is not a complaint about any specific decisions. It’s the long-term erosion of the process that’s at issue,” he said.

Increasingly, the role of UPBC is consultative rather than formative, Carr said. The only way to achieve the former role, he said, is if input is provided at an early stage of discussion, rather than after decisions have been made.

Carr also has been named to the ad hoc committee charged with developing a new 10-year master facilities plan. Wion served on that committee last year.

The current University’s master facilities plan, completed in 1997-1998, is expected to cover Pitt’s facilities plans through 2007. The committee, chaired by Robert Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, was convened last year to begin work on new 10-year plan, Wion said.

Early discussion in two meetings last fall, Wion said, included preliminary reiterations of the basic guidelines and general caveats. “For example, you don’t build if you can renovate; you don’t rent if you can own,” said Wion. “And there was some laying out of the issues: estimates of costs; how many on-campus beds Pitt should provide, what new athletics facilities are needed, and so forth. And, of course, these are all capital projects, so funding [sources} need to be identified.” The committee this year is expected to evaluate deans’ wish lists for their units, Wion said.

Carr said he would report all non-confidential information on facilities planning at future BPC meetings. “I believe in having open disclosure whenever possible,” he said. “And we appreciate that the University Times acts as our voice to the [Pitt] community.”

Carr added that he would recommend that the appropriate administrators present the new facilities plan for input to BPC and other Senate committees, such as the plant utilization and planning committee, prior to final approval.

Also added to this year’s BPC agenda were discussions of:

• Whether the committee should continue to lobby for a mandatory cost-of-living component in the salary pool.

• Potential uses for the University Club, a building at 123 University Place that Pitt purchased in April.

• Long-term effects of funds, supplemental to salary pool funds, that are designated by the central administration as “academic initiatives” funding, that is, funding intended to bolster units that are seen to be at a competitive disadvantage, such as business, engineering, law and natural sciences in Arts and Sciences.

These funds, which are on the order of $5 million annually, often (though not always) are directed toward recruiting faculty and to compensating faculty members who might otherwise be lured to another institution by higher salaries, BPC members concurred.

“This funding is often used in very intelligent ways,” Carr said. “I’m concerned about bad effects that good short-term decisions are having on part-time and non-tenure stream faculty in the longer term. Is it right that the worst-paid people should be subsidizing the highest paid?”

The committee also agreed to seek data from the last several years of the net increase in the staff salary pool versus the net increase in faculty salaries, which might be skewed due to imbalance in distributing the academic initiatives funding.

• Whether the University should have uniform policies governing faculty who retire. According to Irene Frieze, a Senate appointee to BPC, “Retirement agreements for faculty are confidential, and can vary:

whether a faculty member gets research money and office space; what are the terms of a buy-out; whether the faculty member can make an agreement to go part time for one, two or three years and then have to leave. We should have a policy. People are making decisions that no one knows about.”

The committee also agreed that they would invite Pitt athletics director Jeff Long to a meeting to discuss the athletics budget.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 4

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