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December 4, 2008

BPC seeks release of revenue/expense report

The Senate budget policies committee will seek public release of the University’s attribution report to facilitate a hoped-for meeting with Pitt’s athletic director.

The report attributes revenues and expenses to the University’s academic units and other responsibility centers, including athletics.

BPC reviewed a draft of the report in executive session at its May 12 meeting but the document prepared by the Office of Budget and Controller has been withheld from public view pending presentation of a final version to the University planning and budgeting committee. UPBC held a strategic planning orientation Nov. 4 but is not scheduled to meet again until Feb. 19.

At BPC’s Nov. 21 meeting, chair Richard Pratt agreed to contact the provost, who chairs UPBC meetings, to seek the attribution report’s release. Pratt said, “This has been of some concern because we were interested in inviting our athletic director to come, but we wanted to have the budget information on athletics available to discuss.” He noted that the study was not completed until after UPBC’s final meeting last fiscal year and that he did not know whether it would be presented at UPBC’s next meeting.

BPC co-secretary Phil Wion said, “There is some usefulness in seeing it, which we did last spring, but if we can’t talk about it or make any parts of it public, then its usefulness is more limited.”

Noting that the study “was completed long ago and it’s last year’s study,” Wion added, “The whole point of the attribution study is to help people — administrators and others — understand how the whole financial system is working and how revenues relate to expenditures unit by unit.”

BPC members expressed related concerns about the reduction in the number of UPBC meetings and the apparent narrowing of UPBC activity.

In its early days, the committee met at least monthly, but meetings have become less frequent since 1997 and have dwindled to three or four per year, with a focus on advising the chancellor on the University budget and salary pool.

In response to a University Times query as to why the meetings have become less frequent, Provost James Maher, who was not present at the Nov. 21 BPC meeting, stated, “In the early years the committee needed many, many meetings to understand longstanding puzzling issues about the allocation of resources throughout the University. During the late 1990s the committee successfully made both the allocations and the budgeting process sufficiently transparent that our reviews of budget and planning issues became much simpler and more straightforward. As a result, in recent years we have had a two-hour review to orient new members of the committee each fall and then begun the main work of the committee together with all members present as soon as we have some sense of the governor’s budget in February. While we might need quite a few meetings between February and May to craft the FY 2010 budget this year because of the national financial problems, the experience in recent years has been that we were able to come to an understanding and craft a budget with relatively few meetings even in the spring term.”

At the BPC meeting, Robert F. Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, noted that the committee tends to focus on issues such as tuition, financial aid and salary and has worked well. He added that UPBC votes on budget recommendations tend to be near-unanimous.

BPC member Stephen Carr said cooperative relationships with the current administration may have “lulled” UPBC into its less active role. Pratt noted, “We’ve had a continuing era of good feeling for some time, but thinking to a future which might not be of that same character, can one do anything now to have structures that can cope with possible different futures or does the wheel have to be reinvented at that time?”

Wion expressed concern that as turnover in UPBC membership occurs, awareness of the committee’s broader role in other planning and budgeting issues dwindles. He said, “The danger is of losing that confidence that has been so laboriously built up not only by the administration but also by the involvement of faculty, staff and students. … It shouldn’t be taken for granted. We need to keep active the mechanisms that built it up and that will sustain it.”

But, Wion said, “Unless someone wants it to do a little more, the trajectory isn’t likely to change.”

In other business:

• BPC reviewed the annual update on unit-level planning and budgeting committees prepared by the Office of Budget and Financial Reporting.

University policy charges BPC with the responsibility of reviewing whether planning and budgeting system processes are followed. Business and administrative units can choose whether to have planning and budgeting committees (PBCs) but senior vice chancellor areas and academic responsibility centers are required to have them. PBCs participate in development of units’ proposed plans, budgets and contingency plans. BPC received information that indicated all units that are required to have planning and budgeting committees do, although whether all had a majority of elected rather than appointed members was unclear, Pratt said.

BPC will ask for additional information in next year’s report including a summary of which units were in compliance with University policy and a tally of how many times each unit’s PBC met during the year.

• BPC canceled its Dec. 5 meeting. The next meeting is set for Jan. 16. Among the planned agenda items is a review of Pitt’s 2007-08 financial report by Vice Chancellor for Budget and Controller Art Ramicone.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 8

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