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February 18, 1999


UPJ profs claim campus is "cash cow" for University

(Editor's note: A version of this letter was printed in the Feb. 15, 1999, issue of the Johnstown Tribune Democrat.)

To the editor:

Many of our colleagues in Pittsburgh may be surprised to learn that 11 percent of all Pitt students (including the graduate students) are educated at UPJ. For years, Oakland administrators have been depriving the Johnstown college of its fair share of mo nies contributed by the state to the University's general operating fund.

In fiscal year '97, of the state's $134 million appropriation, only about $3.3 million (or 2.5 percent) could be said to have found its way to UPJ, most of it not in cash but in attributed costs. That's according to Pitt's own revenue and cost attributi on study. Each year we are being squeezed tighter, leaving no doubt that the Johnstown campus is regarded as a cash cow.

Provost James Maher has told UPJ faculty, practically in so many words, that our share of state funds is needed to help finance Pitt's aspirations and maintain Pitt's reputation as a major research university. But we have our own aspirations and our own r eputation to maintain. UPJ's mission is high-quality undergraduate education in a broad range of fields. That means small and moderate class sizes, not several hundred students in an auditorium. It means experienced faculty, not graduate students, teach ing the classes and grading the exams. It means more contact hours and less grantsmanship, but adequate professional development opportunities too.

Quality education costs money, but thanks to the efforts of dedicated faculty and staff and the hard work of our students, a little has gone a remarkably long way at the Johnstown college. Nevertheless, there is a limit to how thin any institution can be stretched before irreversible damage is done. We are very near that limit.

UPJ is losing faculty, losing courses, losing professional development opportunities for its faculty, losing the ability to keep its facilities in good repair. The library's collection of books and journals is dreadfully inadequate and falling farther be hind. Cynically, Oakland administrators offer UPJ more money if we admit more students, but the proffered funding is less, on a per-student basis, than the campus is operating with now.

Several weeks ago, a letter was sent to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg expressing concern over the effects and implications of recent cuts on top of years of chronic underfunding. This letter, signed by about 30 of our colleagues (many of them with over 20 ye ars' experience at the Johnstown college), called on Nordenberg to meet with a delegation of UPJ faculty to discuss the situation. There has been no reply.

Until now, UPJ has not publicly confronted the Oakland administration, out of concern that worse treatment would follow. But quiet compliance has brought us to the brink of disaster. It is not that UPJ will disappear–cash cows are seldom slaughtered. It is just that there is an immense difference between maintaining a high quality college and simply keeping the doors open at a cut-rate diploma mill. Nordenberg and Maher appear content to see UPJ make the transition from the former to the latter.

We will not stand quietly by and watch that happen. We seek a mutually beneficial and mutually respectful relationship with the University of Pittsburgh, but experience tells us we must first demonstrate that the present exploitative one is no longer ten able. This demonstration will take place in the arena of public opinion and in the political arena.

We invite the other regional colleges to consider whether they may share our aspirations and our predicament — and our cause.

Allan Walstad

UPJ Physics Department


David F. Ward

UPJ English Department

On behalf of the Committee to Save UPJ.


Provost James V. Maher responds:

A group of faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown have made statements recently in several places, including the University Times, about the adequacy of funding by the University for the campus. Unfortunately, several of those statem ents do not accurately represent either the planning and budgeting process that exists within the University or the positive results of that process for the Johnstown campus.

The aspirations of the University for the Johnstown campus are at least as high as those expressed by the faculty calling themselves "The Committee to Save UPJ." The quality of instruction has always been high, and the dedication of the faculty to the stu dents is exemplary. The campus is blessed with the best physical facilities within the University, built at great cost over the last several decades. The decision to devote such a high proportion of campus resources to the development of these facilities was made largely by the campus itself, and the results speak for themselves. These local decisions clearly have had a long-term impact on the overall structure of the campus budget, but that impact was presumably taken into account when those decisions w ere made.

The campus community should now turn to the development of an academic plan that will leverage its considerable strengths to take the campus to the level of excellence to which it aspires. Engagement in a comprehensive planning process has never been mor e critical because of the opportunity presented by the faculty retirement incentive program. If the future use of these resources is not carefully determined, the campus runs the real risk of replicating the past. That planning process must begin with th e curriculum itself, because it is from that consideration that all other issues derive: faculty composition, enrollment levels, programs of student and support services. To speak in the abstract about such things is an idle exercise. Until the faculty h as clearly determined what is to be taught, by whom, and to whom, the adequacy or inadequacies of budgets cannot be assessed. The University has been urging on the campus that it move forward aggressively to determine these questions.

Even in the absence of this thorough planning effort, the campus has fared well in the annual budgeting process. The fact is that the University allocation to UPJ has increased annually. Listed below are the reductions and additions to the campus budget b etween FY1993, in which year the Planning and Budgeting System was initiated, and FY1999:

* In FY1993, FY1994, FY1995, FY1996, FY1997, and FY1998, the University implemented permanent reductions in the salary base in order to fund salary increases and to provide resources for reallocation. The academic units of the University received lower pe rcentage reductions than the administrative units, which of course benefited UPJ. In addition, UPJ was excused completely from participating in the reductions implemented in FY1996. As a result of these University-wide programs, the personnel budget of UPJ was reduced by a total of $840,000 over the past six years.

* During the period FY1993 through FY1999, UPJ received permanent budget additions totaling $5,500,000:

Annual Salary Increases $2,600,000

Additional Faculty Positions 300,000

Additional Staff Positions 70,000

Increased Operating Budget 52,000

Student Financial Aid 240,000

Campus Utilities 450,000

* During this same period, UPJ received one-time allocations totaling $756,000:

Faculty/Staff Salaries $ 60,000

Library Acquisitions 138,000

Instructional Equipment 200,000

Freshman Socialization 98,000

Classroom Renovations 260,000

* Between FY1993 and FY1999, the University also provided capital funding totaling $1,800,000.

* As a result of the tuition incentive program in effect in FY1999, UPJ will receive approximately $260,000 in permanent funding. Participation in this program is at the complete discretion of the campus. The intent of the program is to ensure that units experiencing growing enrollments have the resources to provide the necessary instruction and services to these students.

It is useful to place this positive budget history in the context of demographic changes on the campus during this same period:

* Between FY1993 and FY1999, enrollment at UPJ decreased from 2,912 FTE students to 2,853 FTE students;

* During this time, the number of student credit hours taught by each FTE faculty member (a measure of faculty instructional activity) decreased from 592 to 549;

* The composition of the faculty improved from 143 full-time faculty to 148 full-time faculty, accompanied by a slight decrease in the number of part-time faculty; and

* The number of staff employees increased from 184 full-time positions to 194 full-time positions, while the number of part-time positions remained unchanged.

It is clear that the significant budget increases that occurred during this period were not the result of increased enrollments. On the contrary, by every measure the campus had improved ratios by the end of the period.

A brief word on the attribution methodology and the Commonwealth appropriation cited by Professors Ward and Walstad: In FY1997 (the last year in which the study was done), UPJ showed an E&G deficit of $841,821 based on direct revenues and expenditures. After the attribution of support costs, the campus deficit increases to $5,474,910. It is this amount that represents the subvention provided by the University, not the much smaller amount cited by the faculty members. The attribution methodology itself, developed by a group within the University Planning and Budgeting Committee, does not support the allocation of the Commonwealth appropriation on any formula basis. The methodology recognizes that the appropriation is meant to support the broad range of missions of the entire University: undergraduate and graduate education, research, service, and general administration. The University's Planning and Budgeting System does not support the funding of any academic units on the basis of some arbitrary formula, such as the number of student credit hours taught. The planning and budgeting process properly insists that allocations be made on a more thoughtful basis in response to plans designed to advance institutional quality. Geography has never been a controlling factor. However, it should be noted that the UPBC has representatives from each of the regional campuses among its members.

Much of this information was presented by Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management Robert Pack to the Johnstown planning and budget committee — a meeting that was advertised as open to the entire campus community — on Nov. 20, 1998. It is unfortunate that greater advantage was not taken of that opportunity for information gathering and dialogue. However, the University administration remains actively engaged in that process of exchange, within the structure of the planning and budgeting system, and committed to reasoned resource allocations that will stimulate further progress in advancing well-reasoned plans.

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