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July 11, 2002

Pitt officials mum on tuition, salaries until trustees meet July 15

Pitt officials mum on tuition, salaries until July 15 meeting

Pitt officials won't reveal their recommendations for raising tuition until July 15, when trustees are expected to approve a budget for the new fiscal year.

"We're not going to have anything to say about tuition, faculty and staff salaries, or related matters until the budget committee and the executive committee of the Board of Trustees have acted on a new budget," said Robert Hill, vice chancellor for Public Affairs.

The board's budget committee is scheduled to meet on Monday at 9:45 a.m. in 2P56 Posvar Hall. Assuming that committee endorses a budget, the executive committee (which is empowered to approve Pitt budgets on the full board's behalf) is expected to give its final approval during a meeting set to begin at 10 a.m., also in 2P56 Posvar Hall.

Both meetings will be open to the public. But, as at other trustees meetings, only trustees and authorized Pitt personnel will be permitted to speak.

Several other state-funded schools — including Penn State and Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities — have said they may be forced to hike their tuitions by 10 percent or more next fall because of state funding cuts and cost increases that continue to exceed the Consumer Price Index inflation rate.

Pitt senior administrators bemoan the same fiscal double-whammy. But they have refused to discuss possible tuition hikes and program cuts — or whether the University will raise salaries of staff and faculty (and, if so, by how much).

The state cut Pitt's appropriation by 3.6 percent for the fiscal year that began on July 1. That reduction followed a 3 percent, mid-year cut that the state imposed on Pitt and Pennsylvania's other state-related universities (Penn State, Temple and Lincoln) for the recently concluded 2002 fiscal year.

It could have been worse. Gov. Mark Schweiker had recommended cutting the state-funded schools' appropriations by 5 percent for FY 2003. But on June 29 he signed an appropriation bill that includes the following state funding for Pitt:

* $153.3 million for educational and general expenses.

* $434,000 for student life initiatives.

* $6.9 million for instruction in the School of Medicine.

* $1.08 million for School of Dental Medicine clinics.

* $337,000 for recruitment and retention of disadvantaged students.

* $8.09 million for the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

* $522,000 for Western Psych's teen suicide center.

* $263,000 for the Graduate School of Public Health.

* $1.01 million for rural education outreach.

The appropriation totals $176.7 million, about $9.4 million less than Pitt asked for in its funding request to Harrisburg last fall. In that document, Pitt had proposed limiting next fall's tuition hike to 4 percent and raising the pool of salary money for staff and faculty likewise by 4 percent — but only if the University got the full $186.1 million it was requesting.

One bright spot in Pitt's FY 2003 appropriation is that state lawmakers took a pair of one-time payments from last year's appropriation ($2.38 million for laboratories and equipment and another $2.38 million for information technology improvements) and rolled them into the University's base budget for educational and general (E&G) expenses.

Pitt had lobbied for the change, which will give the University more budgetary flexibility while ensuring continued state funding for upgrading Pitt labs, equipment and information technology.

"Years ago, state legislators and even people here at the University believed that these needs would be periodic and not ongoing," said Paul A. Supowitz, a Pitt associate general counsel who recently was appointed to oversee the University's commonwealth, city and county relations. "The argument we've been making more recently has been that information technology is going to be an ongoing battle for an institution of this size, in terms of keeping current and maintaining a strong infrastructure. And, in any large research university, laboratory improvements are going to represent that same kind of constant need."

Supowitz continued: "I think a number of the members of the General Assembly realized that, dollar-wise, there was a very limited amount they could do for us this year" when Pennsylvania faced a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall. "This [rolling the two line items into Pitt's E&G budget] was something that the legislators could do that would help us without requiring them to spend any more money."

Another bit of good news: Legislators shot down a proposed amendment to Pitt's appropriation bill that would have charged the University for legal costs incurred by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission owing to actions taken by Pitt's Environmental Law Clinic.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Thomas A. Michlovic, D-Allegheny County, was aimed at punishing the clinic for representing groups fighting the Mon-Fayette Expressway project. Since last year, Pennsylvania has barred Pitt from spending state money on the clinic.

"We obviously had a real problem with legislation that would have tried to make the University pay for something like legal expenses incurred by the turnpike commission when, in fact, no commonwealth funds are used to support the Environmental Law Clinic," Supowitz said.

The state House of Representatives initially approved Michlovic's amendment. But, after senators passed a Pitt appropriation bill that eliminated the amendment, the House concurred by a vote of 188-13. "When it came down to rug-cutting time, there were only 13 votes in the House for that amendment," Supowitz noted.

— Bruce Steele

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