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March 3, 2016

No appropriation a possibility, Gallagher tells trustees, council

The University is facing the prospect of receiving no state appropriation for the first time since it became a state-related school.

“We now find ourselves caught in a very dangerous game of brinksmanship,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in his Feb. 26 report to Pitt’s Board of Trustees, cautioning that the state budget crisis could force Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln to find ways to fill the gap.

“The situation is unprecedented in the 50-year relationship” between the state and the University, Gallagher said, adding that the current budget crisis follows a long period of underfunding by the state.

“When we last received funding it was on a par with funding from 20 years ago,” referencing the 1995 state funding of $145 million and fiscal year 2015 funding of $147 million.

“It had a positive effect, though; it spurred a broad consensus that this was time for a change,” Gallagher said.

That consensus has become a two-edged sword. While the University had been anticipating an increase in its state appropriation, funding for the state-related universities is being used as a lever, held up amid partisan disagreements over the broader state budget.

“We are scrutinizing our budget for additional savings … but I’ll be honest, there is no way to cut ourselves out of a $147 million hole,” Gallagher told the board.

Gallagher’s comments to the trustees echoed his February report to Senate Council.

“The sense of pessimism over the budget situation is growing,” he told the council.

“We’ve been told from both the governor’s office and from the leadership in the House of Representatives to anticipate the possibility of no appropriation for the state-related universities,” Gallagher said in his Feb. 17 report to the council, delivered via Skype from Naples, Florida, where the chancellor was attending Pitt’s 2016 Winter Academy research showcase event.

He told council: “This of course would be an incredibly unfortunate reversal in what we’ve been expecting. To go from expecting broad general support to a $150 million deficit for the University of Pittsburgh alone and over $600 million in missing funding across the four state-related universities would be a real mistake, in my view, for the state,” Gallagher said.

Although no precipitous effects are expected, Gallagher said, “Not having $150 million is real. It’s really because of the strength of Pitt that we’ve been able to manage this delay so effectively.”

However, “if this is a permanent omission, that’s going to change the dynamic,” Gallagher said. “What we’re really more worried about is that this erodes the long-term financial position of the University.”

Gallagher cautioned that the loss of state support would affect Pitt’s ability to control tuition. “The story of growing tuition at the University is really one that’s shifting the burden from state revenue support over to students. I would hate to see that accelerate or grow. I think this is the wrong time to do that when so many states have reversed their cuts,” he said.

“I’m not sure that it’s generally understood by the general public that these state-related universities, which play such a vibrant role in the economic growth of the state, have received no funding and that there’s talk of that funding being interrupted for this year, possibly longer,” Gallagher said.

To raise awareness of the plight of the four state-related universities, Gallagher and presidents Eric Barron of Penn State, Neil Theobald of Temple and Richard Green of Lincoln penned a joint op-ed that has begun to appear in newspapers across Pennsylvania.

“… Eight months into this fiscal year our schools still have not received any funding from the state — a hardship with serious impacts — and we now face the very real prospect of receiving zero dollars for the entire year, which translates to a combined $600 million shortfall,” they wrote, cautioning that the missing funds would need to be replaced from other sources.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the impact on our students,” they cautioned.

“Year after year, our universities have exacted an array of cost cutting measures to keep the cost of a college education within reach of working families while pushing to maintain the academic excellence that our students expect and deserve,” the leaders stated.

“We will fail our students, employees and communities if our elected officials do not quickly reach a long-term budget agreement that provides funding for our universities.”

University Senate President Frank Wilson had harsh words for state leaders and called the University community to action in his own Feb. 17 report to Senate Council.

“If we don’t begin to do something serious now, this charade of governing will likely become an annual, wasteful and damaging fiasco,” he said.

“The University of Pittsburgh has been put — against our will, I should emphasize — in a situation which effectively poses an existential threat to our status as a public university,” Wilson said.

“I’ll accept the claim that most of Pennsylvania’s politicians did not intend for it to come to this, but pardon my suspicious nature, I’m convinced that some of them are acting very intentionally and dishonestly.

“Obviously not all of us in this state believe that a strong system of higher education is important to the economic growth and strength of the commonwealth, nor that a well-educated citizenry produces more honorable politics and more effective public policy,” Wilson said.

“Those elected officials that don’t believe those claims need to let us know who they are. And they need to clearly explain why they hold the positions they do.

“As a Pitt sociologist, I’m interested in finding out just how large a segment of the population these naysayers represent. As a concerned citizen, I want to combat and minimize the impact of this ideologically driven anti-intellectual faction. As the University Senate president I want to encourage all of us — students, staff, faculty, administration — to do all we can to convince those in Harrisburg to live up to the responsibilities of their offices,” Wilson said.

“In the immediate term, I suggest this means writing letters to our elected representatives, encouraging our friends and neighbors to do the same, and making March 22’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg a show of the strength in numbers, guided by facts, solid logic and principled argument.”

The Senate president called for more long-term action, asking Pitt’s Community and Governmental Relations staff and the University Senate governmental relations committee “to begin considering deeper levels of political engagement than we have been accustomed to.”

Wilson said: “It’s time to ask questions about why the state-related universities — the major research institutions in Pennsylvania’s system of public higher education — are not a regular line-item in the main state budget and why endorsement of the state’s support for the work we do for the public good should require a supermajority vote.

“While we’re at it, we should also consider the possibilities for structural changes necessary to provide a serious check on the kind of misbehavior that is making too many Pennsylvanians suffer through no fault of their own,” he said, suggesting efforts toward a referendum “to pass laws that would stop the salaries and perks of legislators who so blatantly fail to do the jobs to which they were elected in timely fashion.”

Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, told the University Times, “Our immediate effort is to get an appropriation,” adding that any discussion about Pitt’s status as a nonpreferred appropriation is a matter for discussion later. “Right now we’re trying to expand our grassroots efforts,” he said, reiterating the call for letter writing.

Linda Frank, chair of the Senate’s governmental relations committee, told the University Times last week that she has encouraged her committee members to write letters to their own legislators, adding that the committee also is drafting a joint letter to legislators.

Frank plans to attend Pitt Day in Harrisburg and is encouraging her fellow committee members to make the trip as well.

“These kinds of things make a difference,” she said.

In response to Wilson’s call for deeper political action, Frank said the Senate committee could make recommendations, but action would require broad-based support.

“It would have to be a joint effort of faculty, staff, University administrators and the governmental relations office. It’s got to be a joint effort if things are going to be done in that direction,” Frank said.

“It’s something as a whole we should be looking at. We would need to work hand-in-hand with the Community and Governmental Relations office to coordinate,” she said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow and Marty Levine 

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