Budget Committee pushes for more education on Pitt budget process


The University’s budgeting process for the current fiscal year, which resulted in a 1.5 percent budget cut, has left the Senate Budget and Planning committee with questions, some of which could be answered at its first meeting of the academic year on Sept. 27 and some that will need further study.

Tyler Bickford, co-chair of the committee and an associate professor in the English department, peppered Thurman Wingrove, controller in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and Steve Wisniewski, vice provost for Data and Information, with questions about how decisions were made to fund one new initiative — the Pitt Success Program — through the University’s surplus, while a separate $12 million shortfall resulted in the budget cut.

While Bickford had specific questions about this year’s budget, he also said he wants the administration officials to give the committee a primer on the budgeting process and how priorities are set.

Frank Wilson, immediate past president of the Senate Council, said, “This committee has been fixated on salaries and not much else. It’s time to have that education process.”

Wilson, who also sits on the University Planning and Budget Committee (UPBC), said that committee was given more detailed projections for this budget year than in the past. “It was the first time I felt we were participating in the budget,” he said. “It was difficult, but I think that’s how it should be going forward.”

The UPBC — chaired by the provost with senior vice chancellors, deans, faculty, staff and students as members (see full list of positions below) — advises the chancellor on operational and long-range plans and budgets.

The 2019-20 budget

Wingrove said this fiscal year’s budget presented several challenges. The budget had to accommodate $26 million in new spending on Pitt Success— the Pell Grant matching program — along with debt servicing, funds for the creation of the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, and infrastructure projects, which led to the 1.5 percent budget cut.

Bickford quizzed Wingrove and Wisniewski on how the decisions were made on the budget cuts.

“If the University is going to have large budget cuts, then that raises questions about where the money comes from,” Bickford said.

The Pitt Success funding mostly came from borrowing from the University’s reserves, Wingrove said. Because the program is being offset by tuition increases, it had an immediate funding source that would allow $20 million of the $26 million to be paid back to the reserves in the first year.  

The $12 million shortfall, on the other hand, comprises $4 million in debt servicing and $8 million for infrastructure and other projects. Because there was no dedicated funding stream to replace this money, the decision was made to cut the budget by 1.5 percent.

A half percent was pushed out to Pitt’s schools and units, and the other 1 percent, “we're looking to try to do that as much as we can centrally,” Wingrove said.

A group put together under the leadership of the CFO is looking at a variety of potential cost savings and revenue enhancement initiatives, he said. “That work is still in the early stages, so I don't have much to report from that. But the hope is that they will be able to find enough revenue enhancements and cost savings to make up for the remaining roughly $8 million.”

The UPBC sets its budget in May before Pitt knows exactly how much it will be getting from the state in the coming year. Wingrove said the University budget committee then sets priorities for if the appropriation from the state is less or more than expected.

If the appropriation went up — which it did this year, by 2 percent — the UPBC’s priorities were, in order, to increase the salary pool, reduce the 1.5 percent cut then reduce the tuition hike, he said. The Senate budget committee’s priorities were to reduce the cut, then increase the salary pool and finally reduce the tuition hike.

Ultimately, the salary pool was increased by 0.5 percent and the in-state tuition increase was reduced by 0.25 percent. The budget cut remained the same, but with only the 0.5 percent imposed on the schools.

A budget primer

Committee member Elia Beniash, a professor of oral biology in the School of Dental Medicine, summed up the concerns of the committee about the budget process: “We’re interested in how the decisions are made and how they impact our students, faculty and staff.”

Wisniewski said he and Wingrove would be glad to answer specific questions and even give a primer on how the budget comes together, but, “I don’t want to give vague answers, I want to give correct answers.”

He asked that the committee let him know in advance the questions they have so he could prepare more completely.

Wisniewski will be filling the role on the committee most recently held by David DeJong, who moved from executive vice provost to vice chancellor of human resources this summer. Wisniewski said that DeJong would still like to play a role on the budget committee.


The University Planning and Budgeting Committee has 22 voting members:

  • Provost, chair

  • Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences

  • Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Operations

  • Senior Vice Chancellor and CFO

  • President of the University Senate

  • President of Staff Council

  • Chairs of the University Senate’s Plant Utilization and Planning Committee, Budget Policies Committee and Senate Educational Policies Committee (or other elected member of the committees, designated by the chairs)

  • Four faculty members from the Pittsburgh campus, who will not also be serving as Senate officer or elected member of a standing Senate committee, jointly appointed by the president of the Senate and the chancellor, with regard for diversity of faculty perspective

  • Two regional campus Senate presidents or faculty designees jointly appointed by the regional campus Senate presidents and the chancellor

  • Four representatives of the Council of Deans, jointly appointed by the Council of Deans and the provost

  • One staff member selected by the Staff Council

  • One undergraduate student selected from all undergraduates on the Pittsburgh and regional campuses, agreed upon by the student government boards

  • One student selected by the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

In addition, the UPBC has three non-voting members: one staff member selected by the Staff Council and two regional campus Senate presidents or faculty designees jointly appointed by the regional campus Senate presidents and the chancellor.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


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