By SUSAN JONES
The leaders of the four state-related universities did something unique this week — they appeared in person for a hearing before the state House appropriations committee.
Pitt’s Chancellor Patrick Gallagher joked that it was one of the few times he’s gotten a haircut and worn a suit since the pandemic started.
PITT DAY IN HARRISBURG
After last year’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg was canceled last year because of the pandemic, the event will return on March 23 — in a virtual setting. Participants will be able to speak with legislators, tour the Capitol Building and more during the virtual event hosted on Accelevents.com. More details will be released soon.
But all joking aside, the committee members had some serious questions about how the pandemic has impacted the universities and their students. Gallagher was joined by Penn State President Eric Barron, Temple President Richard Englert, and Brenda Allen, president of Lincoln University.
The losses that each school has sustained are substantial. Gallagher said Pitt’s aggregate losses are approaching $150 million, with a large part coming from room and board. He said the University has been able to offset much of the losses with reduced activity. “We’ve also realized $45 million in one-time cost reductions plus another $30 million in permanent reductions with a voluntary early retirement program. That is really going to let us, I think, ride through this, particularly as we watch some of the federal assistance come in.”
Gallagher said he is quite optimistic now that the pandemic will not result in any layoffs or furloughs for staff.
“What our employees, our faculty and our staff, have learned to do in terms of flexibly redoing their work has given us great mobility within the workforce,” he said. “We think how disrupted work was and how many tasks couldn’t be done when we closed campuses. The only way we could accomplish this was by having people basically rethink how they work. … Even though we’re doing a lot of things and we’ll be doing a lot of things to achieve efficiencies and refocus our programs as we come out of the pandemic, I think that through this sort of mobility and through natural attrition, there is no need for involuntary furloughs.”
Although some students have decided to take their classes remotely to save on room and board, Gallagher said, “Demand in terms of applications at the current time for the University of Pittsburgh are near record levels.”
Rep. Tim O’Neal (R, Washington County) asked the leaders why the state should increase funding to the schools when each has a substantial endowment — $4.7 billion, in Pitt’s case. The budget request Pitt submitted in October sought a 5 percent increase in state funding; Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal has flat funding for all four state-related university.
Penn State’s Eric Barron was quick to respond: “First and foremost, we would not be the universities we are today without those funds that come from our friends and from our alumni. They energize that research budget that quite frankly drives the economy of the nation. There’s a lot of demonstrations that AAU universities — the top 64, of which both Pitt and Penn State are members of — are driving the economy of this nation and without their intellectual property we would not be where we are today. …
“Quite frankly, I don’t know what we would do as an institution or what we would manage, if we didn’t have those dollars to support student scholarships and student research,” he continued. “You would have a mediocre university, as opposed to a top 1 percent of the world.”
The full hearing can be viewed here.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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