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April 18, 2013

Chancellor: Good federal budget news


Mark A. Nordenberg

Amid ongoing uncertainty over the effects of the federal sequester on the University, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg expressed hope in light of increased funding for research and student aid in the Obama administration’s proposed  fiscal year 2014 federal budget.

In his April 10 report, Nordenberg told Senate Council: “We’re still awaiting anxiously to see just what the impact of the federal sequester is going to be. We know that it will cost us in the end tens of millions of dollars. We just don’t quite know where those impacts will be focused, how they will be felt and what will be the best ways to mitigate the harms that will arise from them.”

Nordenberg said, “If anyone wants to predict where all of this will go in the next few months, I’d be willing to cede some of my time to you. But I think that we do take hope wherever we can find it these days and at least it does seem to be a promising start in the sense that it recognizes the value of what we do in the midst of all of these economic pressures that also have got to be the subject of not only concern but action nationally.”

The chancellor found some encouragement in a statement issued by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, on the president’s proposed federal budget (

Rawlings, in his April 10 statement, said: “AAU and its member research universities have frequently expressed our view that the nation can and should reduce budget deficits but maintain strong investments in research and education. Such spending is critical to the nation’s long-term economic growth, health and national security.

“We are pleased to see this approach reflected in the president’s FY14 budget. The president’s budget offers hope that the nation will continue to make science and education investments a top national priority while taking serious steps to reduce budget deficits. We strongly support the president’s proposals to eliminate the ill-considered across-the-board sequester and to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, Department of Defense basic research, the National Endowment for the Humanities and some key student financial aid programs.

“While we have concerns about some of the specifics, we also appreciate that the administration proposes taking steps to address entitlement programs, which are the most serious driver of spending increases, and to raise additional revenues, which also are essential to serious, balanced deficit reduction.

“We do not agree with everything in this budget. But it is a strong start, and we will work with the administration and with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to support balanced deficit reduction, elimination of the sequester and strong and sustained investments in the nation’s future.”

Pitt is among the AAU’s 62 member research institutions.


Thomas C. Smitherman

Thomas C. Smitherman

University Senate President Thomas C. Smitherman, in a report similar to one delivered April 2 to the Faculty Assembly, described the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee’s (TAFC) role in assisting non-clinical medical school faculty who are concerned about proposed salary cuts in the upcoming academic year. (See April 4 University Times.)

Affected faculty are mainly those from the medical school’s basic sciences areas who are not members of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP) practice plan, through which faculty are compensated for their clinical care separately from their University pay.

An initial difficulty was finding documentation of the relevant policies and procedures, Smitherman said, adding that TAFC, the Senate executive committee and administrators worked together to ensure policies are accessible. Documents are being posted in the faculty affairs section of the School of Medicine web site, he said.

A “faculty performance and evaluation update” dated Jan. 30, 2013 ( sets a target for an “overall average of 75 percent support of faculty salaries from research grants of those faculty who are not members of UPP,” and outlines potential salary cuts for faculty who fail to meet their annual performance plan goals.

Smitherman said he believes the current plans “are completely supported by properly approved policymaking procedures,” adding, “I’m also convinced that these plans, properly executed, will be flexible and fair to the relevant faculty members.”

Now that the documents have been located, Smitherman said, “We will focus the efforts of the committee on giving advice and guidance and in helping mediation of affected faculty members within the School of Medicine who firmly believe that they are facing salary reductions unfairly and improperly in light of, and with attention to, existing policies and procedures.”


In other business:

• Smitherman called attention to the Senate plenary session, “The Cyberlearning Revolution in Higher Education: Charting Pitt’s Direction for Instructional Technology in the Age of MOOCs,” set for noon-3 p.m. today, April 18.

• Faculty Assembly’s April 30 meeting will have a special presentation on postgraduate education.

• The Senate budget policies committee continues to monitor the suspension of graduate programs in German, classics and religious studies. Smitherman said a resolution is expected by the end of the term.

Kathleen Moriarty-de Biasi, a Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences graduate student representative who was among the student members completing their Senate Council terms at the April meeting, said: “I would like to respectfully comment one last time on the departmental suspensions in arts and sciences. In light of the graduate admissions suspensions in religious studies, classics and German, the graduate students of the arts and sciences remain concerned about the future of these programs and eagerly await announcement from the University administration as to what the new face of these programs will look like. While we understand the financial strains that graduate studies can place on an academic institution, we ask to simply be kept aware and current as to the future of these programs and other similar changes in a timely and transparent manner.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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