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April 1, 1999

UPJ faculty take case for more funds to Ridge

UPJ faculty take case for more funds to Ridge

Faculty at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) this week are launching a letter-writing campaign to Gov. Ridge, asking him to help the campus obtain a larger share of Pitt funds.

"We're asking faculty, staff, students, students' parents and community leaders to write to the governor," said UPJ English professor David F. Ward. "We're not asking him to hold up approving Pitt's appropriation, but we want the state to at least consider insisting on equitable funding for all students in the Pitt system."

Ward is a member of the Committee to Save UPJ, which accuses the central Pitt administration of treating the Johnstown campus as a "cash cow."

While UPJ's 3,000 students represent 10 percent of Pitt's total enrollment, including graduate students, the campus gets just 2.5 percent ($3.3 million) of the University's state subsidy, committee members say, citing the Pitt Revenue and Cost Attribution Study.

University administrators maintain that UPJ actually will receive nearly $5.2 million in support from the central administration this year. They also note that the University does not fund academic units based on headcount or student credit hours taught, but through a system that recognizes the broad range (and varying costs) of Pitt's missions, including undergraduate and graduate education, research, service and general administration.

Ward estimated that 50 of UPJ's 147 faculty members belong to the Committee to Save UPJ, "but we haven't actively recruited members, and we don't keep a list," he said; 34 faculty members signed a letter to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg last October, requesting more funds for the campus.

When no additional money was forthcoming, the committee began pleading UPJ's case to the state General Assembly and through the news media.

"We have no stick to beat Pitt with, whereas, they have massive clubs to hit us with," Ward said. "Our only hope is to enlist public support."

Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees questioned Nordenberg about UPJ funding during hearings in February, but the lawmakers did not pursue the issue beyond a few general questions. See March 4 University Times.

During what he hoped would be a conciliatory visit to Johnstown on March 16 and 17, Provost James Maher promised not to cut the campus's faculty, allowing UPJ to replace retirees with junior faculty and keep any salary savings. Maher also offered to help UPJ take better advantage of Pittsburgh campus libraries, computing and other central resources, thereby freeing up money for Johnstown programs. But he called on UPJ to review its curriculum and develop a long-range plan. See March 18 University Times.

The campus has not thoroughly reviewed its curriculum since 1972, according to Maher. And, unlike other Pitt units, UPJ has not yet submitted a long-range plan to the Provost's office, setting goals and priorities based on existing funding, he said.

Johnstown campus President Albert L. Etheridge said he would distribute an outline of planning activities to campus personnel late this week, as a first step in developing what he said will be "a creative and bold" UPJ plan.

At last week's Senate Council meeting on the Pittsburgh campus, Sheldon Clare said he had received 15 comments from fellow UPJ faculty members following Maher's visit. They called the provost's statements at a March 17 UPJ Senate meeting "demoralizing," "threatening" and even "insulting," Clare said.

"There is this constant feeling that Pitt doesn't give a damn about Johnstown," the UPJ professor said, adding: "This is a 30-year problem that's got to be resolved somehow."

Clare complained that Maher spoke at the UPJ Senate meeting only from 3:10 p.m. to 4 p.m., fielding just three questions from the audience.

The meeting began at 3 p.m., and UPJ's wrestling coach spent the first 10 minutes reporting on the team's NCAA Division II championship. Maher then spoke for 25 minutes before taking questions. UPJ Senate members had been warned that the provost would leave at 4 p.m. to return to Pittsburgh for a meeting.

Maher was visibly taken aback by UPJ professors' comments as relayed by Clare. He said his first goal in visiting UPJ had been to heal wounds. Maybe some people didn't want to hear his message about tight budgets and responsible planning "and so they felt it was insulting," Maher said.

Chancellor Nordenberg defended the provost.

"We have been moving through challenging times for every unit of the University," Nordenberg told Senate Council. "As Jim's writings and reportings on this subject have suggested, the campus at Johnstown actually has received comparatively favorable treatment from the central administration during the period of time [since the mid-1990s] that we have been making those decisions.

"There is a history of misunderstandings" between UPJ and the central administration, the chancellor said. "There are canyons that need to be crossed. But we have taken the responsibility to build bridges seriously. To some extent, that is reflected by the trip that the provost made to the [Johnstown] campus and the schedule he maintained while he was there."

In less than 24 hours, Maher met with the UPJ advisory board and the board's executive committee, with students and faculty, and with the editorial board of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, which has covered the UPJ funding controversy extensively.

Nordenberg told Senate Council: "The one point I really want to make — one that's probably unnecessary to make with this group — is that, in my extensive meetings with the provost, I have never found him to be anything but polite, respectful and attentive to the needs of those within the University community who express them, even when they are not always expressed in the most civil of ways."

Based on their public statements, UPJ faculty and Pitt administrators at least agree that communication between the two sides traditionally has been poor.

"When do you begin listening to the natives?" Johnstown anthropology professor Bruce Williams asked Maher during last month's UPJ Senate meeting. "If the natives have lived somewhere for 1,000 years, maybe they know more about the place than you do.

"I'd personally say that everyone here knows we're not funded correctly," Williams said. "Every single person who works here absolutely knows it in every way….You say we don't understand some things in Oakland. Well, the problem is, we think you don't understand some things here. You're far away. Somehow we can't get it across to you."

In reply, the provost told the more than 100 people at the UPJ Senate meeting: "There are a couple of thousand other University employees in other parts of the state who are as convinced as everyone in this room that their budgets should be bigger. If this University were richer, I'd be delighted to raise everybody's budget. I'm trying to find a way to distribute scarce resources in the most effective possible way. I'm reaching out to you and asking you to analyze your opportunities and help me to do the best we can do together."

Some Johnstown faculty bristle at the argument that Pitt could not substantially hike UPJ's funding without taking money away from Pittsburgh campus programs.

"It is not up to us to tell the Oakland administrators how to allocate their fair share of the resources in Oakland. We're talking about Johnstown getting its fair share," said Johnstown physics professor Allan Walstad, a leading member of the Committee to Save UPJ.

"If the Oakland administrators have built programs in Pittsburgh with money that properly belonged elsewhere, the blame for any consequences rests entirely with them," Walstad said. "They should have set priorities and developed a workable plan for their campus. Milking the regionals is no substitute for making tough choices in Oakland."

— Bruce Steele

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