By DONOVAN HARRELL
A graduating Pitt student created a website that lets visitors comb through Pitt’s expenses detailed in its annual financial disclosures.
Jon Moss, the editor-in-chief of Pitt’s student newspaper, The Pitt News, created Ledger, a database that compiles Pitt’s expenses worth more than $1,000.
With Ledger, users can edit their searches to find specific purchasers, vendors, types of expenses and disclosure years back to the 2014 fiscal year.
These disclosures are available through Pennsylvania’s Public School Code of 1949, which, requires the state-related universities to submit information about their expenses by the end of each calendar year.
The reports are typically made public each summer.
Moss said he began developing Ledger in summer 2019 when he learned about the state law requiring the disclosures. This led to The Pitt News’ reporting on the hundreds of thousands of dollars the University paid Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based law firm.
University leaders have said in the past that Pitt consults Ballard Spahr for a variety of legal issues, but the law firm is also known for its “union avoidance” legal services. The firm represented Pitt during hearings surrounding the graduate student and faculty unionization efforts.
Just this week, The Pitt News reported that the University spent nearly $1.3 million with Quest Diagnostics during fiscal year 2020-21, using data sorted through Ledger.
Moss said he created a prototype so he’d be able to explore the data that summer. He’s updated it each year, adding more data to it.
He decided to make the tool more widely available during his senior year at Pitt.
“I said, one of the things I really want to do, it’s been on my list for a while, is just to open up this tool to everybody on campus, to everybody in the community,” Moss said. “Because, I mean, if I have the spreadsheet, why shouldn’t you have this spreadsheet? Why shouldn’t you be able to, in a very simple way, be able to go through it and see what your tax dollars, what your, being a student, what your room and board is actually going towards.”
Moss said he’s working to make Ledger easier for future Pitt News contributors to continue updating it once he leaves the newsroom.
He added that it’s a valuable tool that he hopes the Pitt community will continue to use.
“I think it’s important, just as a journalist, that people know how large organizations are spending their money,” Moss said. “And then, if you’re a student, if you’re an activist, or you’re on SGB, or you’re a faculty member, and you don’t like something, then you at least know what’s going on.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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