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June 22, 1995

State appropriation unresolved; additional Tuition Challenge Grant funds approved

The state House of Representatives voted 198-3 on June 20 to approve a $144.4 million appropriation for Pitt for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

But political wrangling in the state Senate was delaying final legislative approval of the funds as the University Times went to press.

Senate Democrats this week blocked approval of the state appropriations for Pitt and the three other state-related universities — Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — because only Penn State is set to receive a larger appropriation in the next fiscal year.

Penn State would get $273.3 million, an increase of $4 million. The extra funds are earmarked for agricultural research and agricultural extension offices operating in all Pennsylvania counties.

Democrats argue that the four state-related schools should get equal treatment. They also resent being left out of negotiations leading to last week's passage of Pennsylvania's $16.2 billion general fund budget by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Although it is likely Pitt will get no increase in its $144.4 million base appropriation, the general fund budget turned out to be more generous than University officials had expected. That's because the general budget included $24.2 million for the state's Tuition Challenge Grants Program, $9 million more than Gov. Tom Ridge had recommended.

The program grants extra funds to the four state-related universities and the State System of Higher Education (comprising Pennsylvania's state-owned universities) as a reward for keeping tuition increases for Pennsylvania residents at 4.5 percent or less. Participation in the program is optional, but all of the universities are expected to limit their in-state tuition hikes to 4.5 percent in order to qualify.

Pitt's Board of Trustees is expected to approve 4.5 percent tuition increases for nearly all Pitt students at the board's meeting today, June 22.

Ann Dykstra, Pitt director of Commonwealth Relations, estimated that Pitt's share of the Tuition Challenge Grants money will be about $3.25 million. Under Ridge's budget, Pitt had expected to get just $1.9 million from the program.

The $3.25 million would be in addition to the $144.4 million that Pitt expects to receive as its basic state appropriation.

Another bit of good news for Pitt in this year's Tuition Challenge Grants Program is that program funds will be distributed based on each school's full-time equivalent enrollment. Under Gov. Ridge's proposed budget, funds would have been based solely on the number of full-time students a school enrolled, not taking into account part-time students.

For years, Pitt administrators have argued that the program shortchanged urban universities such as Pitt, which enroll proportionately more part-timers than other state universities.

In related news, the House on June 20 voted 113-85 to approve a resolution to create a special committee to investigate spending practices at the state-related universities and the State System of Higher Education.

Rep. John Lawless (R-Montgomery County) introduced the resolution, which calls for a five-member special committee to hold public hearings and report to the House by Feb. 1, 1996 on: * Faculty activities including teaching loads, research, public service and institutional service.

* Tuition and fee discounts for faculty, employees and their dependents.

* Honoraria for faculty, administrators and other employees.

* Compensation policies for representatives of employee organizations.

* Employee sabbaticals.

* Professional staff travel expenses.

Lawless is expected to chair the committee, which will be appointed by Speaker of the House Matthew J. Ryan (R-Delaware County).

During budget hearings this spring, Lawless questioned officials from Pitt and other state-funded schools about the number of hours professors spend teaching and money spent on travel and sabbaticals.

At a May 22 press conference, Lawless said he wasn't satisfied with university officials' responses. He announced plans to introduce a package of amendments to the universities' funding bills for fiscal year 1995-96. But in lieu of the amendments, Lawless this week introduced his resolution calling for the special committee.

The amendments that Lawless had planned to introduce would have required: * Phasing out tuition benefits for children and spouses of employees at colleges and universities receiving state funds.

* That 80 percent of a school's full professors teach at least 12 credit hours each semester before the school could receive state funding.

* Immediately eliminating honoraria for speakers employed at a state-funded college or university when they speak at another institution receiving state funds.

* Prohibiting faculty union representatives from being paid by their universities while on union business.

See the May 25 University Times for an interview with Lawless and responses from Pitt officials.

Lawless's proposal to create the special committee on higher education spending practices touched off a lengthy debate on the House floor, with some representatives arguing that it was the business of the House's education committee to investigate such issues.

A resolution to that effect was introduced by Rep. Jess Stairs (R-Westmoreland County), majority chairman of the education committee. But Stairs's resolution was defeated on its third vote.

— Bruce Steele

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