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September 14, 2006


Pitt long has been recognized as a research powerhouse, currently ranking 7th among the nation’s universities in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, and 12th in federal science and engineering research funding, according to a National Science Foundation study. In the last 10 years Pitt also has risen in the rankings of the nation’s best educational institutions. It ranks 37th in the 2007 Newsweek International ranking of the top 100 global universities and is tied for 19th place among public universities (57th place overall) in the 2007 U.S. News and World Report ranking of U.S. PhD-granting universities.

Such recognition is well deserved. SAT scores for entering freshmen in 2005 averaged 1234; 43 percent of these students ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class, 74 percent in the top fifth.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and his administration have been the driving force behind the improvement in Pitt’s national academic standing and deserve credit for it. This achievement is even more impressive considering that it occurred during a five-year period of budget cuts and stagnant funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with Pitt’s state appropriation remaining below its FY2001 level in absolute dollars until this current fiscal year.

Our state government’s failure to fund its public universities adequately is a serious potential roadblock to Pitt’s prospects for continuing its rise in excellence, because it creates budget shortfalls that have to be made up primarily by increasing tuition and/or limiting pay raises to faculty and staff. Both of these options for allaying budget shortfalls have negative consequences.

Higher tuition creates a financial hardship for many Pitt students, because Pennsylvania’s public and state-related universities already have the second highest tuitions in the nation for public institutions. Moreover, there are limits to how high tuition can be raised without having a negative impact on student enrollment. The size of the tuition increase, in turn, places limits on the size of the pay increase Pitt can allocate to faculty and staff.

Salary and benefits are major factors in the retention of talented faculty and staff at universities. Chancellor Nordenberg recognizes this, which is why he has supported moderate pay increases for faculty and staff the last five years despite lagging financial support from the state. We were fortunate that inflation was low in most of those years. As a result, our faculty salaries managed to stay reasonably competitive with comparable public AAU schools. (See University Times, May 25, 2006.)

However, inflation in 2004 (3.3 percent) was higher than the increase in the raise pool for FY 2006 (3 percent), producing a loss in real wages for faculty and staff who received combined maintenance and merit pay increases that were equal to or below the pool increase. We are in the same situation this year, with inflation for 2005 being 3.5 percent and the raise pool 3.25 percent.

At the June 23 Board of Trustees meeting, Chancellor Nordenberg called for Pitt to “climb even higher into the ranks of the country’s finest research universities.” In order to achieve this goal, Pitt must remain competitive with other universities in faculty and staff salaries. It will not, though, if it keeps under-funding the raise pool relative to inflation as it has in the past two years.

I believe the chancellor had no viable alternative this year with regard to pay raises, making the best choice he could under difficult circumstances. This is a problem we likely will face again in a state that routinely underfunds higher education, unless we develop new revenue sources.

Finding a way to keep Pitt competitive with other universities in faculty and staff salaries will be one of the biggest challenges facing the chancellor in the next few years. He must do so if he is to achieve his goal of moving Pitt even higher into the ranks of the country’s finest research universities.

The chancellor and Board of Trustees clearly recognize the funding challenges posed by today’s climate of constrained governmental funding, and are seeking new sources of revenue for continuing Pitt’s academic mission. At its last public meeting, the trustees voted to extend Pitt’s capital campaign, doubling the goal to $2 billion. I applaud their efforts to help Pitt find additional revenue sources to continue its climb for academic excellence. I think we all do.

John J. Baker

John J. Baker is president of the University Senate.

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