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July 9, 2009

Impact of budget cuts unclear

As state budget debates continue in Harrisburg and Pitt’s share of anticipated federal economic stimulus funding remains in question, financial uncertainty is on the rise at Pitt.

In addition to Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s assertions that Pitt and its fellow state-related universities should not be included among public institutions of higher education for the purpose of receiving federal economic stimulus funding, additional budget cuts he proposed on June 26 would lop another $20.5 million from Pitt’s state appropriation on top of an $11.35 million reduction already imposed in fiscal year 2009.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated in a July 7 University Update that the governor’s current recommendation (of just over $140 million for Pitt) would cut the University’s appropriation by more than $30 million “to a point several million dollars beneath its 1995 level, when our enrollment was well over 2,000 students smaller, when our research enterprise was not much more than one-third its current size and when costs generally were much lower.

“The simple math leads to an inescapable conclusion — by any measure, this is a dramatic reduction, and it would have a marked effect. That impact may first be seen when Pitt and the other state-related universities set tuition rates later this month.”

The Board of Trustees budget and executive committees have scheduled a July 16 meeting at which, administrators have said, 2009-10 tuition rates will be announced.

In his update, posted at, Nordenberg stated, “We already had announced a tuition freeze at our regional campuses and also had declared our intention to keep tuition increases at the Pittsburgh campus as low as possible. That remains our goal, but in our current circumstances what now is possible will not be nearly as low as we earlier had hoped.”

Citing the University’s belt-tightening that included pay freezes, budget cuts, hiring restrictions and a slowdown in the pace of capital projects over the past year, Nordenberg stated, “Though this has been a very challenging time, by maintaining our commitment to our mission and by working together we have been effectively meeting our challenges.”

University Senate immediate past president and budget policies committee chair John J. Baker indicated he expected the magnitude of reductions in the state appropriation would force tuition hikes, pay cuts, reductions in Pitt programs and services and possibly some layoffs. (See Senate Matters, this issue.)

Staff Association Council President Gwen Watkins said the administration is maintaining its stance that layoffs are not planned and that staff reductions mostly are through normal attrition. “At this point we’ve been told there are not going to be any major layoffs,” Watkins said.

In response to University Times questions regarding the potential impact on Pitt’s employees and budget, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill declined to elaborate beyond the chancellor’s update which, he said, “addresses, as far as we can go,” the questions.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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