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May 11, 1995

Provost Area plans to shift funds from low to high priority units

Over the next five years, the Provost Area of the University will shift millions of dollars from low to high priority academic areas.

For the fiscal year that begins July 1, the money shifted permanently with in the Provost Area will total nearly $7.5 million — 4 percent of the combined budgets of the area's academic units — while the area's overall budget will not increase.

Each of the 18 schools, academic centers and regional campuses in the Provost Area has been told to reallocate 2.5 percent of its budget from low to high priority areas during each of the next five years.

In addition, each unit will surrender another 2.5 percent to the Provost office for area-wide redistribution. The money from this 2.5 percent "tax" will be allocated among high priority academic programs as defined in the University's "Toward the 21st Century Plan," which the Board of Trustees endorsed in October.

Under the "tax" system, four academic units are targeted for budget increases next year, six for level budgets and eight for reduced budgets. Provost James Maher declined to identify which units fit into those categories, however, and deans and faculty contacted by the University Times had little to say on the record about the provost's decisions.

Maher said the reallocations will require cuts in the overall workforce of the Provost Area (but not layoffs; reductions would come mainly through attrition, according to the provost) and phasing out of some departments and programs (but no tenured faculty members will lose their jobs, he said).

The realignments are part of a University-wide effort to cope with steady or declining enrollments, state appropriations and federal research grants, the provost said.

(In "Budget Planning in the Provost's Area," a letter to the University community that appears on page 2, Maher provides details of the Provost Area reallocations and related issues — including his decision to cancel plans to hire a vice provost for Women's Concerns.) In an interview last week, Maher said that most of the academic activities to be phased out over the next five years are of good quality. "The mediocre things were squeezed out long ago, so we're now in the painful position of phasing out the good in order to do better. Of course, that's going to cause controversy," the provost said.

"On the other hand, if we don't make these tough decisions now and begin to shift resources incrementally, we may very well find that in five years we have to make radical cuts that will do real harm to the University's academic mission.

"If we don't do this [five-year reallocation], we will slip seriously in the ranks of American universities. And if we do this well, we will move up.

"I think most universities won't do this sort of thing particularly well because it's very, very difficult to change anything in an institution where decision-making is widely distributed. I know that many people here do not feel particularly empowered, but the fact is that if you look at the number of people at this University who have some ability to block a change of an academic program, you realize that, in fact, our decision-making processes are very distributed." Pitt's current long-range planning process itself is fairly decentralized. The moves announced by Maher do not apply to the six Health Sciences schools, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the administrative units that report to Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Ben J. Tuchi, and a number of other units, such as athletics, that report directly to the chancellor.

(See story on page 1.) Regarding the possibility of personnel cuts, Maher said: "I don't think there's any likelihood of layoffs of people on University of Pittsburgh money" in the Provost Area, provided the state does not cut its appropriation to Pitt next year.

"We are not planning any layoffs. We are planning to make programmatic changes, and in the course of those changes we may be moving employees or phasing out positions by attrition and adding people to the high priority enterprises," Maher said.

"Now, over the years it has not been uncommon for a department or a school to have to let an employee go when the employee's position no longer fits the mission of the unit. That has always gone on, and will continue to go on. But there is no intention to reduce the number of people working here in order to save money." Salary raises, if any, will come in January and will be minimal, Maher said. "We are going to try to recover enough unspent salary money from unfilled positions to finance some modest raise in January. But realistically, the budget is tight enough, and it's difficult enough to recover much money from unspent salaries, that I don't expect a very big raise. I do hope that we would be able to cover a cost-of-living increase for our lowest paid employees." n On May 4, Maher sent letters to Provost Area unit heads responding to their long-range plans. The provost declined to discuss the contents of those letters.

The University Times made phone calls to most of the 18 Provost Area units, but only a few administrators returned calls and were willing to discuss their units' plans.

According to Peter Koehler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Maher "essentially endorsed" his school's plan. The wide-ranging document recommends cutting 49 of 601 budgeted faculty positions (most of them currently vacant) and adding faculty in only four departments — biological sciences, chemistry, economics and history.

The plan also calls for reducing FAS-funded teaching assistant/teaching fellow/graduate student assistant positions by 10 percent, with some of the savings from the TA/TF/GSA cuts going toward non-teaching graduate fellowships.

The plan rates eight FAS units as being of "demonstrated excellence," seven as "on the verge of excellence," 13 as representing "quality core" areas of FAS, six as needing reviews of their graduate programs, four as candidates for budget cuts, and three as areas that may be eliminated.

Areas of "demonstrated excellence" are defined as being central to FAS's academic mission and nationally competitive for faculty, graduate students and grants. They include chemistry, economics, film studies, history of art and architecture, history and philosophy of science, neuroscience, philosophy and psychology.

The three units that may lose their FAS base budgets are crystallography, communication science and disorders, and the Center for Cultural Resource Research (CCRR). "None of these areas is lacking in quality," Koehler emphasized. "But they were rated as having low centrality in FAS's academic mission." No other university has a separate crystallography department, the dean noted, and Pitt's has only one faculty member who is nearing retirement. FAS is negotiating with the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) to absorb the communication science and disorders department. "If this effort should fail," the FAS plan states, "this group is to be eliminated." The plan calls for CCRR, which performs anthropological work for outside contractors, to fully support itself through non-University funds.

Koehler acknowledged that FAS faculty from lower-priority units are grumbling about the school's plan. "Over the years, the complaint at this University about planning is that it never has any tangible outcome. Now, planning is having an outcome, and that doesn't sit too well with people whose units don't fare as well as others," Koehler said.

FAS was one of five schools rated as "core areas of the University" in the "Toward the 21st Century Plan." Another of those schools, the Katz Graduate School of Business, "did not get a lot of direction in terms of specifics" from Provost Maher's response to its plan, according to Katz Dean H.J. Zoffer.

"I think we're still at an early stage of discussion with the Provost's office. The letter [from Maher] was the first step in a longer-range discussion," Zoffer said.

Among the new initiatives the business school proposed are hiring recruiters to work in foreign countries (one-third of Katz school students are from outside the United States) and adding more joint degree programs, including a five-year program through which students would earn a Pitt engineering degree as well as an M.B.A. from the Katz school.

Rush Miller, director of the University Library System, said he was "generally pleased" with Maher's response to the ULS plan, although the provost turned down ULS's request for increases in its journal acquisition budget to keep pace with the 10-15 percent annual inflation rate for journal subscriptions.

According to Miller, the provost recommended a "moderate" cut in ULS's operating budget, which the system hopes to offset through its new policy of charging other libraries $15 per volume for loaned books. Pitt, which had already charged other libraries for loaned journals, was one of the few research libraries that did not charge for book loans, Miller said.

Martin Staniland, interim dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said the provost's comments on GSPIA's plan were "generally quite favorable." GSPIA's goals included strengthening its public policy and management program (which, for various reasons, has suffered from "a serious and continuing drop in applications and enrollments," the plan notes) while maintaining the current strength of its international programs.

The school's plan also gives high priority to improving student advising and placement services. GSPIA students complain "with reason" that the school's placement service is not as good as those of many of GSPIA's competitors, the plan states.

— Bruce Steele

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