Christian Snyder | Editor in Chief
Pitt’s Board of Trustees will hold its first 2019 meeting Friday, providing an update about the University to the community. The board is responsible for all key decisions at the University, including the University budget, setting tuition prices and general administrative initiatives.
Despite multiple requests, Pitt spokesperson Joe Miksch declined to provide the agenda for the meeting. The board will meet Friday at 10:30 a.m. in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.
As the meeting approaches, here are some of the topics the Board might discuss:
Pitt is planning a tuition increase for next year, according to its annual budget request to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
According to the document, tuition will rise by about 3 percent for in-state students and by about 5 percent for out-of-state students next year.
In addition, Pitt’s funding from the Commonwealth will be held flat next year, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget released Feb. 5, after receiving a 2.8 percent increase last year. Pitt initially requested a 6.5 percent increase in funding from the Commonwealth.
It is still unclear how a decrease in expected Commonwealth funding will affect the University’s budget or tuition, but Pitt spokesperson Joe Miksch said the University hoped state officials would reevaluate their decision not to increase funding.
“As the budget process moves forward, we hope the governor and legislature will consider the value Pennsylvania’s state-related universities bring not only in terms of educating Pennsylvanians, but in serving as engines of economic development, innovation, and employment,” Miksch said in an email.
The next stage of the state budget process involves committee meetings in the state House and state Senate. All state-related universities, including Pitt, are scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg on Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. Pitt will hold its annual Day in Harrisburg, an event where students and administration lobby state legislators for increases in funding to the University from the Commonwealth.
As tuition rises, the University is also planning several million dollars in new expenditures.
The Board’s compensation committee approved several salary increases in December 2018 to the tune of 2.25 percent for many top officials. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s salary was increased to $555,000, and he will receive a deferred bonus of $500,000. The committee also discontinued the practice of providing vehicles to senior Pitt officials, which was established in 2002. As a replacement, the officials will receive a salary increase of $5,600.
Pitt recently unveiled a draft version of its master plan for the next several decades, which includes new housing and an uptick in sustainability initiatives.
The University held a town-hall meeting on the plan on Feb. 11 and heard from the Pitt community. Among the concerns were the lack of a music building in the plan, as well as worries from activists about how the plan would affect Oakland.
Incoming SGB leadership believes that students should have a more prominent role in key University decisions such as changes in tuition pricing.
In a Facebook post, then-SGB-candidate Anaïs Peterson, a junior urban studies major, said she was looking to add a public comment period to the beginning of all Board of Trustees meetings.
“The Board of Trustees does everything from naming buildings to increasing tuition but students have no way to communicate with their trustees,” Peterson, who will serve on next year’s board, said in the post. “If elected to board one of my first priorities would be to instate a public comment period at all public Board of Trustee meetings.”
When asked about tuition increases, Zechariah Brown, SGB president-elect and a junior political science major, said SGB currently has non-voting seats on several board committees, but he believes the board should gain voting power to more directly influence policy.
“We don’t have any voting power, we just kind of get to be more of … the student spokesperson,” Brown said in an interview with The Pitt News before the Feb. 19 election. “The smartest way to give students a proper voice would be to allow us to vote.”
Eric Macadangdang, SGB member-elect and junior urban studies and history and philosophy of science major, said SGB should continue to lobby on behalf of the student body, as well as draw attention to the contrast between the financial situation of many students and top Pitt officials with six- and seven-figure salaries.
“Continuing to lobby and continuing to show that education should be priorities and in order to achieve our degree we shouldn’t have to take on two jobs, shouldn’t have to take out extraordinarily high private loans,” Macadangdang said. “There’s a certain level of hypocrisy when people’s salaries are increasing but so are students’ debts.”
In recent years, Pitt has been under pressure from student groups to divest its endowment from fossil-fuel investments. According to The Guardian, part of Pitt’s endowment as of November 2017 was invested in EnCap Energy Capital Fund IX-C, a Cayman Islands hedge fund, which was revealed in the Paradise Papers scandal last year.
The Socially Responsible Investing committee, a group of faculty and students, was established in 2017 to provide counsel on socially responsible ways to invest the University endowment. The group held a town hall meeting in November 2018, which was attended by many student activists.