Pitt mum on changes from budget cuts

By Mahita Gajanan

A Pitt official said the University instituted a 2 percent budget cut to all portions of the… A Pitt official said the University instituted a 2 percent budget cut to all portions of the University this year, but not all departments are aware of the change, and Pitt officials could not state exactly what changes have come as a result of the $40 million cuts.

Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia Beeson said over the summer that the administration would try to keep the cuts from affecting academic programs by taking most of the cuts in administrative operations that would not affect classrooms.

But University spokesman Robert Hill said in an email last week that all 600 units within the University, including academic and administrative departments, have been given a 2 percent budget cut.

Pitt only monitors to make sure that each unit is operating within its specified budget, he said. The University does not keep track of the cuts each unit makes.

At multiple points, University officials have declined to comment on specifics regarding the budget cuts and have denied requests for interviews with various Pitt officials.

In June, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett cut Pitt’s Commonwealth appropriation by 22 percent, and the University raised in-state tuition by 8.5 percent in July to cover part of a $70 million budget gap.

Art Ramicone, Pitt’s vice chancellor for budget and controller, said at Pitt’s Board of Trustees Budget Committee meeting on July 8 that the 22 percent cut in state funding would not fall entirely on students in the form of tuition increases.

“We have fully expressed a commitment to our students and their families to not place the burden entirely on their collective shoulder,” Ramicone said. “We are going to cover 60 percent of the budget shortfall through a combination of central and unit-level budget cuts and adjustments. The remaining 40 percent will come in tuition.”

The 8.5 percent hike in tuition covered $30 million of the University’s $70 million budget deficit, and the remaining $40 million has supposedly been covered through budget cuts to complete Pitt’s $1.9 billion budget.

The 2 percent budget cuts

University spokesman Robert Hill said that a 2 percent budget reduction process was distributed across all 600 units within the University, which include the schools and the academic and administrative departments, all of which constitute the operating structure of the University.

“There is no magic bullet here, or single biggest budget reduction, but rather a 2 percent budget reduction process across all units within the University,” Hill said in an email.

Pitt assigned each unit to deal with the cuts in its own way in order to operate within the reduced budget.Hill said that individual units met their budget in different ways, such as by not filling an open position, by eliminating a planned publication, by reducing frequency of materials that are sent out or by sending electronic communications instead of using paper.

But a number of academic units seem to be unaware of the 2 percent budget cuts.

“Our department was not affected by the budget cuts,” Barbara Warnick, chair of the communications department, said in an email last week. “If there is any impact, it would not be evident at this point in time.”

Warnick is currently on sabbatical and wasn’t able to able to comment on the matter any further.

English department chair Don Bialostosky said that his department is still living within the 5 percent cut its budget received in 2008, and he hasn’t heard of the recent 2 percent budget reduction for his department.

The chemistry department has also not faced any budget cuts this year, according to David Waldeck, the chair of the chemistry department.

“It’s not clear that anything was cut,” Waldeck said. “We have the same operating budget as we had last year.”

However, over the summer, Waldeck told The Pitt News that operational budgets are usually the part of the budget that does get cut when there are reductions. Operating budgets include money for things such as paper and telephones.

Waldeck noted that the last time the department had to make operating cuts was due to fiscal pressures in 2008.

He said that N. John Cooper, the dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, met with all the department chairs at the beginning of the fall term and said that most of the cuts were going to be taken up through higher levels.

University spokesman John Fedele refused interviews requests with Cooper.

Waldeck said the only effect the budget cuts might have specifically on academic departments is that there will probably be a decrease in hiring of any new faculty. But he said that because of the surplus of chemistry students this year, the chemistry department was given special funding for part-time faculty.

Hill said that although Pitt didn’t eliminate specific programs, it reduced programming and public outreach in schools and operations across the board. Four specific areas received a 50 percent cut in their respective funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — rural education initiatives, public health programs that serve the 68 counties, dental clinics that provide care to those in need and services provided through Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

“We will continue to invest in programs and services that provide greater efficiency to the university and will analyze each opportunity by looking at the cost of the upgrade compared to the payback that would result from that investment,” Hill said. “In most cases, projects that reflect a higher payback over a shorter time period will be given a higher priority.”

Cuts from the administration

At administrative levels, Pitt officials took measures to lower costs.

Beeson said that the Office of the Provost reduced the number of staff in its unit and the admissions process was made fully paperless.

According to Beeson, officials have made many efforts to save money.  

“We have taken many University-wide steps to cut costs and avoid undue expenses, including energy-conservation measures, greater efficiency through technology, administrative streamlining, targeted staff reductions and other steps,” Beeson said in an email.

Beeson would not comment on how many employees Pitt cut.

Hill said that the University does not have a specific number of staff reductions as of now or a target number, and he would not comment on how many staff members Pitt has cut so far. He said that in most cases, staff reductions have been the result of attrition.

Each operating unit is monitoring necessary staffing levels to maintain the quality of the programs being offered, he said.

“We are adamant that we are not going to allow staffing cuts to negatively impact the quality of the educational experience at the University and the extremely important research programs, both that have become hallmarks of the University of Pittsburgh,” Hill said in an email.

Hill said that the various schools and programs of the University looked at course offerings to make sure that the courses being offered at the University were those with high student interest and those that fulfill degree requirements. No specific major programs were cut this year.

“Our overriding priority is to protect the quality and academic integrity of the units and the courses that they offer,” Hill said.

Beeson said that the University is working to ensure that students feel the effects of the cuts as little as possible.

“We will continue to do everything possible not to place undue burden onto our students,” Beeson said.

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