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April 14, 2016

Are PBCs planning without budgeting?

The University Senate budget policies committee (BPC) will take a closer look at faculty involvement in the University’s planning and budgeting processes after discussion at Faculty Assembly revealed that planning and budgeting committees (PBCs) in some areas across the University instead might be more aptly described as “planning without budgeting” committees.

The dearth of budget information at the grassroots level came to light amid concerns over low faculty response rates to a recent survey undertaken as part of a routine review of Pitt’s planning and budgeting system (PBS).

Under shared governance provisions, BPC is responsible for reviewing whether the PBS processes are followed and whether all constituencies have adequate opportunities to participate in the process and to be informed of its outcomes.

The PBS document calls for periodic review “approximately every five years,” by surveying the constituent groups to determine whether and how the PBS document should be amended, and whether and how the PBS process can be improved.

Minor revisions to the PBS document passed Faculty Assembly with little fanfare April 12 and await Council of Deans’ approval, but dismal faculty response to the survey prompted concerns.

Of 1,287 respondents to the online survey (see March 3 University Times), less than one-quarter — just 23 percent — were faculty.

And only about one-third of faculty respondents felt knowledgeable about the PBS.

David DeJong, executive vice provost and liaison to BPC, said the survey revealed a general lack of knowledge of the PBS and raised concern that its application is not uniform across all units.

“The lack of awareness seems to be the biggest impediment —especially to faculty — for being active participants in the process. … I think getting that awareness out is relatively low-hanging fruit,” he told the Assembly.

“When we started this process, I did talk with the Senate budget policies committee about partnering with them to do a better job of oversight and emphasizing the importance to all of the unit-level administrators of following the system. The review process we went through was a great opportunity to talk with the Council of Deans about this and, moving forward, based on more granular views of the survey, I will be assisting the committee with getting that message out.”

Penny Morel, faculty in the School of Medicine and co-chair of the Senate research committee, inquired: “Is the lack of awareness because those procedures are not actually taking place in the units?”

Although DeJong characterized such instances as “quite isolated,” medical school faculty backed Morel’s view and other Assembly members said they too lacked budget information in their areas.

Karen Norris of the medical school said, “I am absolutely not aware of any process or procedure that involves faculty, let alone staff, in either departmental or unit or school-level budget planning.”

Senate past-president Nicholas Bircher said he had been part of the medical school’s planning and budgeting committee and was a School of Medicine representative on the PBC for the Senior Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences area. “To the best of my knowledge, after 1998 those committees became closed-door proceedings or simply didn’t exist. The simple fact is that we have not had an election for representatives to that committee insofar as I know in the School of Medicine since 1998,” he said.

“Despite a detailed operational knowledge of the system and how it’s supposed to work, I just don’t think it’s working right now.”

Said Senate Vice President Irene Frieze, “I think one of the problems with faculty responding to the whole survey is we don’t even know what the expectations are in terms of what we’re supposed to be able to have access to.”

Frieze, of psychology, said although she’s served on her department’s committee, “I’ve never seen any numbers from the department as far as operating budget. Is the expectation that we’re supposed to see those kind of numbers?”

“We don’t see any numbers either,” said Senate student admissions, aid and affairs committee co-chair Robin Kear, who said she’s chaired the University Library System’s PBC for the past two years.

BPC member Cynthia Tananis of the School of Education said her school’s council functions as its PBC, yet is a “planning without budgeting committee” because it too sees no numbers.

The knowledge gap goes beyond the mere lack of budget figures, she said. “I think you can also make sure that people in units understand the policies around budgeting, and that often isn’t the case either: about how tuition is credited, where and how, and how that changes; what the agreements are and how departments in a school work together toward one budget.

“Those kinds of inner workings are never fully explained either,” she said.

“I think what we’re hearing across the board is a frustration that I’ve heard from colleagues for years and years. And that is, how do you do good planning without having very much budget information at all, or an understanding of what the policies and assumptions are beneath that budget?”

Senate President Frank Wilson said he shares concern that faculty largely are unaware of how the planning and budgeting system works, and that even those who serve on a department- or school-level PBC may not see budget data.

“I’m hoping this process will get serious discussions taking place at the level it’s called for in the document: in our departments and schools,” he said.

“I think it’s absolutely appropriate to go back to our units and engage in this conversation. In some places it’s obvious it’ll be the first time this conversation actually takes place,” he said.

BPC chair Beverly Gaddy said, “I assumed these numbers would be available to departmental budget committees. Otherwise, how do you make decisions without the data? It could be part of the reasons why faculty are not that involved,” she said.

Gaddy said BPC will review the survey results at its next meeting, set for 2 p.m. April 15 in 1817 CL.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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