Board of Trustees hears report on ‘a year that is unlike any other’

By SUSAN JONES

The Board of Trustees annual fall meeting Sept. 25 was devoid of any major news but gave members a rundown of both the triumphs and tribulations that Pitt has faced over the past year.

The meeting was led by immediate past chair Eva Tansky Blum, because current chair Thomas Richards was unavailable.

Blum started the meeting by acknowledging the new academic term is “a year that is unlike any other. I want to express the sincere thanks of this board to the faculty, students and staff who have adjusted to new ways of learning, educating and working.”

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s annual report outlined several bright spots during the past year, including Pitt’s recent strong rankings from U.S. News & World Report and Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (see related story).

He credited members of the Pitt community with “working harder than they have ever worked before.”

“If you’re going to attribute our success over the last year, … you have to give credit for that success back to our community,” he said. “Under some of the most difficult circumstances any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes, people stayed focused on why we’re here — to provide that educational opportunity, to advance the frontiers of knowledge, to develop vaccines to save live — at a time when they themselves are victims and are being affected.”

The trustees also approved a resolution, proposed by Charles Steiner, to thank and congratulate the staff, leadership, student body and faculty “for the outstanding job they’ve done in this particular pandemic.”

Other highlights included:

  • A record 14 students from Pitt were named Fulbright Scholars last year, while two other students were awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman scholarship and Beinecke Scholarship.

  • The University will welcome a new dean for the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs next week. Carissa Schively Slotterback comes to Pitt from the University of Minnesota.

  • Ivet Bahar, chair of the Department of Computational Biology in the School of Medicine, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Budget

“On the overall budget picture of the University, the question you may have in your minds is, how are we doing?” Gallagher said.

On the revenue side, he said research funding was up slightly, while money from tuition and fees and the return on investments have remained stable. Pitt received around $23 million from the federal CARES act, but the biggest drop in revenue was in auxiliary services, largely from the partial refunds given to students who had to move out of their residence halls in the spring.

The University did have $50 million in expenses related to the pandemic, including $18 million for student refunds, $27 million in lost revenue in other areas and $13 million to prepare the campuses to transition to accommodate students, staff and faculty during the pandemic.

Enrollment

The chancellor also reported on preliminary enrollment figures for fall 2020, which will be finalized next week.

  • Graduate enrollment was down 1.7 percent overall. The biggest hit was among international students, which were down 17 percent, largely because of traveling difficulties during the pandemic. This was offset somewhat by a 3 percent increase in domestic graduate students.

  • Undergraduate enrollment on the Pittsburgh campus has gone up in all areas, except internation students, for a total increase of 6.6 percent. There was a 3.9 percent jump among Pennsylvania students and 10.5 increase among nonresidents. There also were sharp increases in minority student recruitment.

Chart on enrollment

  • The regional campuses all had slight enrollment declines, most significantly among Pell Grant students. “What we’re seeing at the regional campuses is that some of our most vulnerable students, and I say that from a financial perspective, are bearing the brunt of the effects of the economic downturn that we’re experiencing,” Gallagher said.

Research

On the research front, Gallagher said Pitt “remains one of the top funded research institutions in the nation.” Much of the funding over that past six months has been for COVID-19 related projects, including:

  • A large clinical study led by Derrick Angus and the Critical Care Medicine department showing definitively that steroids were improving outcomes among critically ill COVID-19 patients. “That work immediately led to a change in World Health Organization treatment recommendations, and that is already making a difference globally, literally saving lives,” Gallagher said

  • Three vaccine candidates are under development in Pitt research labs.

  • Two pharmaceutical companies have partnered with Pitt on clinical trials on their vaccines

  • The NIH selected Pitt this month to lead a trio of phase three clinical trials, exploring the use of blood thinners to improve outcomes in adult COVID-19 patients at risk of developing blood clots.

Gallagher also noted that despite the interruptions caused by the pandemic, the Innovation Institute still recorded another record high 394 invention disclosures last fiscal year, and just this week, Pitt’s Small Business Development Center was named the number one such center in the country out of more than 1,000 by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Diversity issues

Gallagher focused extensively on diversity and inclusion issues confronting the University and the world. He said that looking back at the 50th anniversary of the Computer Science Center sit-in that Pitt celebrated earlier this year, makes us “realize is that many of the issues facing our country, our institution, and even our region, are still in front of us.”

“We have a new seminal moment, a watershed moment for the nation. And it’s actually continuing even with the heartbreaking news this week from Louisville,” he said. “This topic stands in the backdrop of really redoubling our efforts, turning our examination back on to ourselves and making sure that we live up to and become the university that we expect ourselves to be.”

Earlier this summer, Gallagher put a hold on the new strategic Plan for Pitt for a year so that the plan could include concrete ways to address racial injustice and systemic racism in a “way where we can hold ourselves accountable.”

Other news from the meeting

  • Gallagher said Bigelow Boulevard is still on track to open next month, but some finishing touches may not happen until December because the supplier of some of the concrete planters and safety barriers was impacted by the pandemic.

  • The board voted to approve a resolution from the Governance and Nominating Committee to adopt the appointment-stream faculty titles previously passed by Faculty Assembly and to approve the election of several emeritus trustees.

  • Pitt Alumni Association President Valeria Njie said in her annual report that Pitt Commons, the online networking community between students and alumni, has seen a 123 percent increase in alumni participation and 150 percent increase by students. The association also recently launched Ask Pitt Alumni, which uses artificial intelligence to connect students and recent graduates who are seeking advice with the alumni most likely to answer. The alumni association also is addressing issues of diversity and inclusion, by supporting Pitt’s efforts in these areas and forming an equity and social justice task force to define diversity and inclusion as it pertains to alumni relations and examining ways that the association can enhance operations and programs to be more inclusive and equitable.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.

 

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