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October 10, 1996

Assembly wants some emphasis on the arts in capital improvement plan

Faculty Assembly is urging the University Capital Planning Committee to find a place for the arts in the committee's 10-year plan for Pittsburgh campus construction and renovation.

As part of the University Senate response to the proposed plan, the Assembly on Oct. 1 unanimously approved the following motion: "Whereas the University has a responsibility to the total community, and the arts enhance the quality of student and community life and are an attractive factor in student recruitment; "Therefore, Faculty Assembly urges the University Capital Planning Committee to reconsider the role of the arts in University life and specifically requests it to address in the [capital improvements] report the improvement of arts facilities, and instructs our representatives on the University Planning and Budgeting Committee to seek similar changes in other key planning documents." The draft plan, currently being circulated throughout the University for comment, lists more than $361 million worth of Pittsburgh campus projects that the capital planning committee recommends Pitt undertake over the next decade.

The document emphasizes renovating existing facilities, addressing the University's backlog of deferred maintenance projects, and improving student housing, athletics and recreational facilities.

The document doesn't mention the arts, except to dismiss a previous proposal to convert Bellefield Hall into a center for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences departments of music, studio arts and theatre arts.

In 1993, Pitt's administration endorsed the Bellefield arts center concept and commissioned an architect to draw up plans. More recently, though, the administration rejected the project as being too expensive. But the capital planning committee calls for renovating parts of Bellefield Hall as a student recreation center this year, with a long-term goal of converting the building into a combined rec center and residence hall.

Committee member Robert F. Pack, who is vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management, pointed out that the arts departments were rated as lower-priority units in the University's "Toward the 21st Century" academic plan and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' own long-range plan. Those were the "other key planning documents" to which the Faculty Assembly motion referred.

At the Oct. 4 University Senate budget policies committee meeting, Pack said the capital planning committee is "very sympathetic" to the arts departments' requests for improved performance, rehearsal and instructional space. "It's not that they don't deserve it or that they don't make a good case," Pack said. "But it's a question of relative priorities. The question ultimately comes down to, how much can the University afford to do within a given time frame and within certain budgetary limits?" The plan is "a document of choices," the vice provost said. "There are lots of people who are disappointed" with the comparatively low priorities that the plan assigns to their units over the next decade, he said.

In making the case for better arts facilities, two arts department professors told Faculty Assembly that Pitt isn't meeting their departments' current space needs, let alone planning for their future requirements.

Sarah Barker, associate professor of theatre arts, and Mary Lewis, associate professor of music, complained of cramped offices, poor lighting and ventilation, and insufficient performance and rehearsal space.

Barker and Senate President Keith McDuffie said arts programs are powerful recruiting tools. Students with high SAT scores tend to be attracted more by a university's arts offerings than by its sports and recreation programs, they maintained.

Assembly member Paul Hammond, of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said the capital improvements plan depicts Pitt as an institution that takes good care of its students and draws the local community to campus mainly for athletic events. The University appears to be abandoning its traditional role as a public center for arts activities, he said. "I think it's good for the University to present itself as a place where things happen for the outside community besides football games," Hammond said.

In addition to approving the motion about the arts, Faculty Assembly unanimously passed a second motion endorsing the plan's stipulations that no money from Pitt's educational and general budget should be spent on the ongoing Pitt Stadium renovations or the proposed convocation center/basketball arena.

The remaining seven phases of stadium renovations are expected to cost $13.4 million, with the money to come from private donations. The $52 million convocation center is to be funded by private gifts and state money, the plan notes.

In other Assembly meeting business, Senate President McDuffie summarized 10 Senate committees' responses to the capital improvements plan. (See story on this page.) — Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 4

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