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April 29, 1999

Johnstown legislator meets with chancellor over funding for UPJ

Johnstown legislator meets with chancellor over funding for UPJ

Last week, state Sen. John Wozniak, D- Johnstown, convinced the Senate appropriations committee to delay the University's state funding request for next year until Pitt addresses the Johnstown campus's chronic budget problems.

This morning, Wozniak is scheduled to meet here with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg to continue discussions they began earlier this month about UPJ.

Both men called their earlier talks "constructive." Both said they are confident about working out a compromise to ease UPJ's budget crunch and end the delay in legislative consideration of Pitt's request for a $164.5 million state appropriation for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"I have always found Sen. Wozniak to be a reasonable person who cares deeply about the Johnstown campus," Nordenberg said. "When we last met, we had very constructive conversations focusing on the means by which lingering issues could be fairly and expeditiously resolved. I would expect us to continue on that path."

Wozniak, a UPJ alumnus, said: "For the last 49 years, the main campus has been saying to the Johnstown campus: 'I hear ya. I understand your problems.' But it never came to anything."

In recent years, he said, the campus has been forced to take $1 million annually from its auxiliary budget to cover salaries and classroom expenses. "You should never cross that line" between the auxiliary budget and educational and general expenses, Wozniak said.

On the positive side, Pitt recently agreed to pay $600,000 in debt service on UPJ construction and to wire Johnstown residence halls for Internet access, Wozniak noted.

"It's a two-way street," he said. "Pitt needs to help eliminate UPJ's indebtedness, and UPJ has to do its part by reviewing its curriculum and doing the long-range planning that Pitt's other campuses have been doing."

Unlike Pittsburgh campus schools and the University's three other regional campuses, UPJ has not yet submitted to the Provost's office a long-range plan setting goals and priorities based on existing funding. Nor has UPJ thoroughly reviewed its curriculum since 1972.

But UPJ began making up for lost time this month. A 13-member strategic planning steering committee held its first meeting April 21.

The committee has been assigned to design a planning process for the campus, identify priorities, and propose actions and tactics.

UPJ President Albert Etheridge, who chairs the steering committee, wrote to Johnstown faculty last week: "Developing a new plan for our college is an exciting opportunity. Your ideas and thoughts concerning this important process are always welcome."

"It looks like a pretty good committee," said Johnstown English professor David F. Ward, who helped organize the Committee to Save UPJ last fall. The group has been pleading UPJ's case for more funds to state lawmakers and through the news media.

"By fall, we [Johnstown faculty] hope to have a solid outline of a plan and a good idea of where we want to go, academically and financially," said Ward, who is not a member of the steering committee.

Provost James Maher, asked whether UPJ can expect an increase in University funds, said: "It's premature to say there's going to be more money when the plans haven't been either formulated or reviewed.

"What is true," Maher added, "is that when we decided to wire the residence halls here [on the Pittsburgh campus] for the Internet, we simultaneously asked each of the regional campuses to review their needs for Internet access. Some of them wanted to put their share of the money into public labs. Johnstown took some time to decide what it wanted, but recently — and by 'recently,' I mean within the last couple of weeks — Johnstown brought us a plan stating that they would like to wire their residence halls. That project should go forward rather quickly."

Delaying consideration of a university's funding bill is a common tactic for state legislators, said Ann Dykstra, Pitt director of Commonwealth Relations.

Last year, for example, Sen. William Slocum, R-Warren, temporarily put Pitt's appropriation on hold to protest the fact that two Pitt law professors helped an environmental group block the sale of timber in the Allegheny National Forest. The forest is in Slocum's district.

Currently, Temple University's budget request is on hold while lawmakers study last year's merger between Temple and the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine. The latter used to get a separate funding allocation from the state.

"At this point in the [budget-making] process, it's not that big of a deal that our funding bill is on hold, especially considering the positive discussions going on between the chancellor and Sen. Wozniak," Dykstra said.

The state House and Senate are aiming to agree on a proposed budget for Gov. Ridge's consideration by the week of May 10, Dykstra said.

House and Senate leaders, together with governor's office staff, are negotiating a compromise between the House's $18.9 billion budget bill and the Senate's $18.6 billion proposal, which is closer to what Ridge proposed in February.

All three proposals recommend increasing Pitt's state funding by almost $4 million to $162.2 million next year.

The University has requested $164.5 million plus one-time appropriations of $2.5 million for advanced research and $1.5 million for programs to prepare Pitt students for the 21st century economy.

Nordenberg and Dykstra said Pitt will continue to lobby for more than the 2.5 percent increase proposed by the House, Senate and Gov. Ridge.

"The process of crafting a final budget is still underway, and it will be a couple of weeks before we'll know better how that is unfolding," the chancellor said. "Obviously, we hope for more than the governor recommended."

–Bruce Steele

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