Pitt’s Board of Trustees discusses budget cuts

By Andrew Shull

During Pitt’s Board of Trustees winter meeting today, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg made the case… During Pitt’s Board of Trustees winter meeting today, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg made the case that Pitt is simply a good investment for the state.

At the meeting in the William Pitt Union, Nordenberg said to the Board that the University gave the state “the highest return on their investment,” pointing to the $800 million in research grants awarded to the University, and 28,000 jobs that Pitt creates in Western Pennsylvania. He urged the state government not to cut Pitt’s funding.

On Feb. 8, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a 30 percent cut in state appropriations for the next fiscal year to three of the four state-related universities — Pitt, Temple and Penn State. Last year, Corbett proposed a 50 percent cut in state funding to the state-related universities, but the state passed the budget in June with a 19 percent cut.

The Board went so far as to adopt a resolution that they plan to deliver to Corbett and leading members of both houses of the general assembly from both parties in protest of the proposed cuts. The resolution expresses the Board’s intent to work with “alumni, faculty, staff, students and other friends of the University” to fight against the cuts.

“The members of the Board of Trustees do hereby reaffirm their belief that further reductions to the University’s state support, as recently proposed, should be eliminated and that the Commonwealth should re-affirm its intention to continue working with the University as an important partner in its status as a public, state-related university,” the resolution said.

The Board passed the resolution unanimously, but not without controversy. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education, Ron Tomalis, a Corbett appointee, was at the meeting and voiced his opposition to the resolution.

“This administration is committed to education,” he said. “If I were a voting member, I would not vote for this resolution.”

Nordenberg said that if Corbett’s proposed cuts go through, the University’s state funding would be equal to what it was in 1987, while the state budget has tripled in that time span. The funding would also be at the lowest levels adjusted for inflation since the University became state-related school in 1966.

Following the meeting, Nordenberg further discussed the possibility that the University might reconsider its state-related status.

“We’re not travelling the path to becoming a private university voluntarily. With each cut, we’re becoming less public and more private,” he said.

The state budget wasn’t the only thing on the Board’s agenda. They also unanimously voted to extend signatory authority for research grants and contracts to four positions, and voted to name a Greensburg campus building after Frank. A. Cassel, a former president of that campus.

Representatives from both the Swanson School of Engineering and the Alumni Association gave presentations. The Swanson school focused on how they plan to use a $22 million grant they received on Feb. 9 from the Richard King Mellon foundation, while the Alumni Association discussed how it could evolve as an organization.

The meeting also touched on the 225 anniversary of the University’s founding. Nordenberg’s address pointed to some of the University’s achievements over the years in engineering, the arts and medical advancements from Pitt researchers, like the creation of the Salk vaccine.

After listing a number of awards that University alumni and faculty have won over the years, Nordenberg remarked “This is a record that would be a source of pride for any university.”