Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 12, 1997


Planning and budgeting efforts to marshall scarce resources are undergoing revolutionary change across the country. Of course, it is hoped that this is beginning to happen at the University of Pittsburgh. Modern resource allocation methods must become an integral part of any great institution of higher education if it hopes to maintain academic excellence. For centuries, faculty members have contributed to academic excellence in universities in an unbroken succession of principles and ideals; faculties have responded to the ongoing need for continual planning and resource allocation. But unlike many other societal institutions, faculties have shared a distinctive feature, namely a remarkable solidarity. Together, they have wrested unrevealed happenings from the universe, traced their sources, and correlated a coherent relationship between physical science, social science and the humanities so that vast stores of knowledge were and are imparted to students in the classroom and laboratory. These titanic events, which bestowed great benefit on society, required an unparalleled dedication and commitment to planning. University faculties also have been extraordinarily progressive in character. As universities have been subjected to demands from specialization, the faculty has willingly responded to the pressures for the expansion of knowledge and technology by maintaining a spirit of free inquiry and candor protected by tenure. Thus, the university uniquely safeguards the environment for enhancing the diversity of opinion necessary for communities of scholars to be able to plan for the future. Despite the progression and success of past planning efforts to achieve academic excellence, the increasing demand and complexity of higher education require sophisticated and multifaceted planning and budgeting, especially if Pitt wishes to compete successfully in the modern-day environment, or perhaps to survive as a major seat of learning in the century ahead.

Even with the University of Pittsburgh genuinely committed to leadership, both faculty and administration must consider borrowing new planning techniques from a variety of sources in the outside world, even trying to improve upon systems of effective planning and budgeting from other academic communities, however infrequently that might occur. Planning and budgeting in the community-at-large have evolved from an emphasis on inputs and processes to a focus on objective outputs and outcomes. A wellspring of ideas can be plumbed by exploring the rain-maker theory of budgeting and planning originally described by Joseph Peters. The rain-maker gets so involved with the rain dance that she neglects the goal to make rain. Obviously, the rain-maker's emphasis should not be on the process of dancing but rather should focus on making rain e.g. academic excellence.

The rain-maker says, "I know I didn't make rain, but wasn't the dance beautiful?" Even though no rain fell, planners can lay claim to the choreography despite its failure to make any rain.

The science of rain-making turns into the science of rain-making dancing. Learning to dance becomes an end in itself and replaces the desired outcome of learning how to make it rain. In effect, academia has not focused on measurable outcomes. After discussion with several members of the two main committees assigned to the tasks of planning and budgeting, I find it worrisome to see (1) so much emphasis on process, not on outcomes; (2) a lack of acceptance of ideas from the University Senate's Budget Policies Committee by the administration's University Planning and Budgeting Committee, and (3) an incremental planning process at Pitt. The incremental process of personnel and program budgeting is arbitrarily determined by reviewing how much in the way of resources was allocated in the last year or two and by trying to predict how much will be needed the next year or so. The incremental approach pays too little attention to long-range planning, disregards the coordination and integration of interschool programs, and neglects zero-base budgeting. Always keeping in mind the University's illustrious academic tradition, the areas in need of attention in the planning process include (a) performance budgeting using cost accounting and operations research methods directed toward outcome objectives within all academic and administrative units and the University as a whole, (b) initiation of strategic planning by identifying alternative ways and resources available to meet goals and objectives giving consideration to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and (c) the application of cost benefit analysis as an essential tool of planning to maximize the benefits of available resources, for example, welcoming faculty recommendations for savings achievable from turnover through a retirement inducement program. Faith in the faculty's contribution to planning for academic excellence is indispensable if the University of Pittsburgh is to continue to grow in stature.

Gordon K. MacLeod is president-elect of the University Senate and a professor of Health Services Administration in the Graduate School of Public Health.

Leave a Reply