Senate Council warned that 2019 could be a tough state budget year


University administrators told Senate Council members last week that they are examining Pitt’s severe weather policies and are expecting a tough year for the state budget.

The chancellor’s report for the Feb. 14 meeting was delivered by Provost Ann Cudd along with Senior Vice Chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations Paul Supowitz and Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Operations Gregory Scott.

Paul SupowitzSupowitz updated the council on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, delivered on Feb. 5, and how it would affect Pitt.

Supowitz said the budget recommends flat funding of roughly $185 million, including for Pitt’s medical schools — the same amount as the current fiscal year for the University and the other state-related universities.

“And just to put it in context, that’s about where we were in the early 2000s,” Supowitz said.

He added that this is just the beginning of the budget process, which is to conclude by the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30. However, he said he expects this year’s budget process to be “challenging.”

Supowitz said this is because the Commonwealth is carrying an approximate $1.5 billion deficit, from the previous year, due to “some borrowing and cobbling together to meet the required revenue numbers.”

“I do not think it will be an easy budget year,” he said.

Jan. 30 cancellation was ‘learning event’

Following Suppowitz, Scott briefed the council on the University’s evaluation of how it reacted to a recent polar vortex, which brought bitter cold temperatures to the region in late January.

Greg ScottThe temperatures were enough of a threat for Chancellor Patrick Gallagher to abruptly cancel classes for a day on Jan. 30.

However, Scott admitted the situation could have been handled better — which is why Gallagher asked Scott to create a working group to examine the University’s extreme weather policies.

“So, we are obviously learning from this event,” Scott said. “It was a pretty significant event that caused a lot of confusion and questions within the community. And we recognize that there was also some frustration and anger that was spurred on by that.”

The group, Scott said, consists of Senate Council leadership and some “key staff” who have met already following the January event.

“The charge is, let's take a look at our policy and make sure our policy is accurate and really mindful of all types of extreme weather events that might occur,” Scott said.

The group is planning to review the policies, gather recommendations and make some quick actions since winter is not over yet. There will be more long-term decisions made regarding the policies in the future, Scott said.

Alex Toner, Staff Council vice president for public relations, said the council is seeking to expand support for the Staff Professional Development award, a program that funds professional development opportunities for staff.

Toner joined the other council members in pushing the importance of Pitt Day in Harrisburg on March 26. This gives faculty, staff and students a chance to advocate on Pitt’s behalf to state lawmakers.

Other topics discussed:

  • The search to fill Dr. Arthur Levine’s position is underway. Cudd will chair the search committee to fill his roles as senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. Steve Shapiro, a School of Medicine faculty member and chief medical and science officer at UPMC, is the vice chair for the committee. Gallagher will eventually complete the appointments and charge the committee.

  • On March 27, the spring plenary on “Free Speech in the Modern University” will be held in the Assembly Room of the William Pitt Union.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Pitt was carrying a $1.5 billion deficit. It has been changed to reflect that Supowitz was referring the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.