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March 18, 1999

Provost vows not to cut UPJ faculty if curriculum review, plan are completed

Provost vows not to cut UPJ faculty if curriculum review, plan are completed

JOHNSTOWN — During a two-day visit to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) to address complaints that Pitt's central administration has chronically underfunded the campus, Provost James Maher offered the following deal:

Pitt won't cut the campus's faculty — and will help UPJ to take better advantage of Pittsburgh campus libraries, computing and other central resources — if Johnstown thoroughly reviews its curriculum and develops a long-range plan.

"The time is now," Maher told an audibly skeptical audience of about 100 people at yesterday's UPJ Faculty Senate meeting. "List everything that needs to be done, analyze the resources that are available, match them against each other, and we'll talk about what ways might be available for you to use the [central University] resources that we can identify" in order to free up money for UPJ academic projects.

Maher's tone was conciliatory but firm during meetings March 16 and 17 with UPJ faculty, students, administrators and advisory board members.

"You have a nice campus. You have a good faculty. And you're doing well by your students because their attainments when they leave UPJ are impressive. But you can do better," he told the Senate audience.

UPJ has not done a thorough review of its curriculum since 1972, the provost pointed out.

And while Johnstown boasts what Maher called "the most modern physical plant of any of the five campuses of the University of Pittsburgh system," UPJ administrators decided years ago to pay the debt service on those buildings out of annual auxiliary revenues, Maher said. "That process reached a point two years ago where the debt service was so high, the central administration started paying a share of it. We're still doing that," he said.

Maher also noted that Pitt's planning and budgeting system is in its fourth year, yet the Johnstown campus — unlike other University units — still has not developed a long-range plan spelling out the campus's mission and priorities, and how UPJ hopes to achieve its goals given its current funding.

(In a March 15 letter to UPJ faculty, campus President Albert L. Etheridge announced that the campus will begin work soon on "a creative and bold" plan. "By April 1, I will distribute an outline of specific actions we will take to set this process in motion," Etheridge wrote.)

Between fiscal year 1993 and 1999, Maher said, the University allocated $5.5 million in permanent budget additions to UPJ, while other Pitt units were absorbing cuts.

He cited the education school, which plans to reduce its full-time-equivalent faculty to 75 (down from 96 FTEs three years ago) and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which plans to reduce its number of tenured and tenure-stream faculty to 505 (down from 556 several years ago).

"Morale among faculty in those schools actually is improving because they have set priorities, they know where they're going, and they now see that they can achieve goals they've set for themselves, even with reduced budgets," Maher maintained.

"No one is talking about cutting faculty here," the provost emphasized. But for UPJ to continue avoiding such reductions, he warned, the campus must review its curriculum and determine how it wants to fill UPJ's eight current faculty vacancies as well as 15 vacancies that will be created by the end of the spring term through the University's early retirement incentive program. That's 23 positions out of a total UPJ faculty of 147.

Once a UPJ plan is in place, Maher explained, retiring full professors will be replaced with assistant professors hired at median salaries paid to assistant profs in their particular disciplines at Association of American University (AAU) branch campuses.

When Maher said the resulting salary savings represented "an incredible opportunity" to free up money for academic initiatives, several UPJ senior professors scoffed. They questioned whether the campus could even afford to hire assistant professors for what they, after 20 years or more of teaching at Johnstown, currently earn.

Maher replied: "We're talking about quite a few positions where the difference between a full professor's pay and an assistant professor's pay is not so trivial. We could do a fair amount with that if we're careful."

UPJ Senate President Patty Derrick said, with a laugh: "The difference [between a full professor's salary and that of an assistant prof] isn't that huge here."

"Well, I know the numbers," Maher said. "I would say it is pretty big."

According to Pitt's Office of Institutional Research, full professors at Johnstown earned an average salary of $60,057 last year. The average salary of a UPJ assistant professor was $34,648.

After the Senate meeting, Derrick said of the provost's 50-minute presentation: "I think it was what the faculty here expected, pretty much. However, I think he had some very positive things to say to us, and he told us exactly what he wants from us. I think it's up to us now to gather our forces and try to do the things he suggested."

Derrick said she felt encouraged by Maher's pledge not to eliminate faculty positions. "That was a source of anxiety for a lot of us prior to this meeting," she said.

English professor David F. Ward also said he was relieved to hear that Maher doesn't plan to cut UPJ's faculty, and that the campus will replace tenured professors with junior professors in the pipeline for tenure.

But the provost's comments failed to address UPJ's "startlingly inadequate" faculty pay and "gross underfunding" of vital campus services, said Ward, a member of the Committee to Save UPJ that has been pleading its case through the news media (including the University Times) and by lobbying state legislators.

In interviews prior to the Senate meeting, Ward and several other professors complained of paltry or non-existent faculty travel budgets, the campus's growing reliance on part-time faculty, and the inability of faculty in some UPJ departments to take sabbaticals because there is no one to cover their courses and no money to hire replacement faculty.

Bruce Williams, a UPJ anthropology professor who serves on Pitt's University Planning and Budgeting Committee, cited the following results of underfunding: The campus's psychology department can't afford to maintain lab rats; budget cuts forced UPJ to drop field biology courses; and faculty were expected to supply lightbulbs for film projectors until UPJ film classes stopped using projectors in favor of video.

Economics professor Michael Yates recalled a term when he tried to incorporate a writing component in his courses, in keeping with a University directive. "With four classes per term and about 40 students in each class, I find myself grading about 2,000 papers. I finally had to say, 'I can't do this anymore.'"

The Pitt administration often reminds regional campus faculty that they don't bear the heavy research burden of Pittsburgh campus faculty. "But even with that," Yates said, "I'd like to see the reaction of a faculty member at the Pittsburgh campus if you told them: We expect you to teach four or five courses per term, without graduate students to help you. That's what we [UPJ faculty] do."

Faculty and students have complained that UPJ's wrestling team — which recently won the NCAA Division II championship — can't afford a van, but travels in private cars to matches.

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