By SUSAN JONES
Though it’s still unclear when his tenure as Pitt’s chancellor will end, Patrick Gallagher says, “The only thing that’s really changed is I’m unlikely to put out brand new initiatives that would obligate the University long after I’m no longer in the role.”
Right now, he’s focused on making sure that Pitt is moving forward.
“We still have an appropriations cycle in front of us and a budget, and we still have a full academic calendar,” he said in an interview last week. “And so a big part of my to-do list is to not let up and make sure we continue to move that forward.”
Gallagher said he’s as much in the dark as most of the rest of the University about who his successor will be. (See related story: Search for new chancellor remains behind closed doors.) He knows the transition will happen in “the not too distant future,” but “the day-to-day business of the University is still the thing that you see the most. In many respects, things are still proceeding very normally.”
On the budget cycle
Last year, the state budget process was challenging. Republican House lawmakers tacked an amendment onto the funding for all four state-related schools that would have required Pitt to end medical research using human fetal tissue from voluntary abortions if it wanted to receive its state appropriation. Pitt and the other state-related schools have repeatedly said that all the money they receive from the state goes toward reducing tuition for in-state students.
The amendment, which was eventually removed, was one of the major reasons that the state budget was not passed by the required deadline of June 30.
“I think it’s going to be different than last year and a lot of that has to do with certainly the aftershocks of last year. There’s probably a collective PTSD on that brinksmanship,” Gallagher said. “But there’s also been some wholesale changes that will certainly impact it. Front and center, a new governor has just been inaugurated. The governor will kick this process off when he delivers his proposed budget, … and because of the timing of the inauguration, a new governor gets an extra month. So that will happen early March, not early February.”
The other dynamic is the continued uncertainty in the state House. Democrats won 102 seats in November to Republicans’ 101, giving Democrats their first majority in 12 years. But one re-elected Democrat, Tony DeLuca, died in October and two others (Summer Lee and Austin Davis) resigned in December to take seats in the U.S. House and as the state’s lieutenant governor, respectively. Elections are Feb. 7 to fill those three vacancies, all in Democratic-leaning districts in the Pittsburgh area. Once those elections are completed, the compromise candidate who was elected speaker last month, Democrat Mark Rozzi of Berks County, may face a challenge from Democratic floor leader, Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia.
“The consequence from our perspective has been that the House has been very slow to appoint committee chairs, (set) processes, things of that type,” Gallagher said. “So that’s still a question mark. But we’ll be ready.”
He said he’s looking forward “to seeing how this begins to unfold as this new General Assembly and this new governor get started and set out what I think will be a fresh set of discussions.”
Pitt in October submitted a request for a 6 percent increase in its state appropriation for fiscal year 2023-24. The previous year, Pitt requested a 5.5 percent increase, after receiving flat funding over the previous two years. Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal for 2022-23 contained a 5 percent increase for the state-related schools — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln. The legislature ultimately gave no increases to the schools, but Wolf used money that lawmakers appropriated to the governor’s office for “pandemic response” to give the state-related schools a 5 percent boost.
Penn State’s Board of Trustees voted in September to request a 47.6 percent, or $115.2 million, increase in state funding. The university said this would bring per-pupil funding up to the same levels as Pitt and Temple.
“I’m always a little bit of the belief that the institutional requests are more about shaping the conversation when it happens. I think Penn State is signaling the kind of conversation they want to have,” Gallagher said. “We’ve been very clear … in signaling the conversation we want to have, which is state funding all goes to Pennsylvania students. And we believe that the more funding that can be made available, the more affordable and more accessible an education can be made for those students.”
On the issues facing higher ed in Pennsylvania
Gallagher headed the Education and Workforce transition committee for Gov. Josh Shapiro, but can’t go into specifics about what they discussed, he said.
But he did say, “I think the issues facing higher ed are pretty well known at a higher level. … We’re an institutionally rich state. We’ve got an abundance of wonderful, high-quality, post-secondary educational institutions, from community colleges through top research-intensive universities, and everything in between. And we’re at the same time one of the lowest-resourced states in terms of per capita funding. And then in terms of educational outcomes, in terms of post-secondary attainment, we’re firmly in the middle of the pack.”
One of the things holding Pennsylvania back, he said, is lack of a “coherent strategy with a lot of consensus around it, because it’s not about one year of investment. It’s about a steady commitment to investing and how you invest and what the priorities are. And we’ve not had that in Pennsylvania. …
He hopes the governor can get support in the General Assembly to create a more strategic response. “And it almost doesn’t matter to me what that strategy looks like. I think we can all get behind it. But I think having a strategy is a success. The biggest problem would be just not having a strategy and continuing to be just tactical and short term year after year after year.”
Excitement around the Shapiro administration was very noticeable during the transition, Gallagher said. “One of the ways I saw it was in the caliber of people who were both on the transition committees, but even more so the the young staff people that were behind those committees.”
Paired with the “quality of the Cabinet nominees that have come up, all of those are really good signs for success, because they show that this governor’s captured a lot of excitement and people want to be part of it.”
On the new budget model
Gallagher said the new responsibility center-focused budget, which has been in the work since fall 2020, is “getting real.” Each school is now using this model to plan their 2023-24 budgets.
The new approach shifts all revenue from tuition, fees and grants to the schools and then each school will pay a 16 percent “participation fee” — sometimes called a tax — back to the central administration to pay for strategic development and other initiatives. The schools also must pay fees to support shared services, such as Human Resources and IT.
“As you get close to a turn on date, I would say there’s always a bit of fear and uncertainty,” the chancellor said. “There’s always going to be things that have to be addressed and fixed. I’ve never seen a significant, not just administrative system but responsibility shift happen without that. But I think people are approaching it the right way. And I think we’ll be able to work through any sort of implementation hiccups as we go.
“You can only dry run this stuff so long. At some point you have to turn it on and do it.”
On preparing to teach
Gallagher said the students will be the judge of his skills when he enters a Pitt classroom to teach physics after his time as chancellor ends.
“All I can say is I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
“I have been secretly reading a lot of physics books again, which I haven’t done for a while and I’m really enjoying it. So it’ll be fine. It’s just a different way to serve the mission. ... It’s working with students much more directly than I do now, and it’ll work a different part of my brain than I currently work. I’m looking forward to all of that.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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