Senate committee discusses budget and outlier at first meeting of year

Although Pitt pretty much fits 880 students more than initially expected, the University’s multibillion-dollar budget for the 2021-22 school year does not see much change.

The University Senate Budget Policy Committee held its first meeting of the academic year via Zoom on Friday, where members discussed the University’s 2021-22 budget and a subcommittee report on Outlier, a program that allows students to take introductory courses online.

Tyler Bickford, associate professor of English who chairs the committee, stressed his concerns about the lack of budget changes. Bickford said departments were “on fire” this quarter and the additional student income could be used to ease the burden on faculty members taking extra courses and adding students to courses.

“880 students are roughly $ 17.5 million,” Bickford said. “This easily reverses the budget cut and gives us a 2.25% salary pool. We are looking at an amount of ongoing operating revenue that does not appear to be included in the operating budget. “

Stephen Wisniewski, vice-rector for budget and analysis, said the additional income of the 880 students is not reflected in the operating budget, but much of the money will be used to offset the associated costs. to the more students.

“The arrival of the larger first year class has its impact,” said Wisniewski, “The financial aid budget was higher, the accommodation suffered because we had to get additional spaces. There are several additional costs associated with it.

Thurman Wingrove, the University Comptroller, reported on the 2021-22 budget and reiterated his key figures as the Board committees approved in July. Wingrove said tuition fees increased between 1.5% and 4.5%, as in previous years. Salary increases among faculty will be broken down into four categories and a 1% cut has been made to balance the budget. Wingrove said the four categories are salaries below $ 48,470, between $ 48,470 and $ 97,000, between $ 97,000 and $ 145,410 and above $ 145,410.

“We worked with the same parameters as we had in the past,” Wingrove said. “We had no discrepancy between what was approved by the UPBC in May and the board of directors in July.”

The committee discussed adjustments underway to accommodate the higher number of undergraduate students, such as securing additional classroom resources and hiring more faculty members. Lorraine Denman, professor in the Italian department, said the increase was straining faculty and students.

“I’ve been asked to consider adding spaces to my classes, and it’s been department-wide,” Denman said. “I just want to make sure people are aware of the extra work for the faculty and the administrative work for hiring.”

Wisniewski said the University is working hard to meet its goals for incoming classes due to the pressure it places on faculty, students and administrators when admissions exceed the target number of 4,200 to 4 enrollments. 300.

“It goes at all levels. It is difficult for Student Affairs, which has a fixed staff and a fixed budget. It’s hard for the Advice center who has more children who come for counseling, ”Wisniewski said. “We don’t like when that happens.”

Wisniewski said several factors played a role in the University’s ability to determine the number of interested and incoming students, such as COVID-19 and new testing policies for admissions.

“We didn’t have any campus visits, so we had no idea who was interested or how many were interested,” Wisniewski said. “We also opted for an optional test and we didn’t really have a good idea of ​​the feedback on that. It was a complicated year to say the least.

Sybil Streeter, Director of undergraduate counseling in the psychology department, said the increase in enrollment affects all levels of the University and suggested creating an individual unit to deal with the issue in the future.

“For me there is an opportunity here for us to form a working group, because this registration has an impact on student affairs, academic affairs, institutional policies,” said Streeter. “It also affects the students. We are all concerned. “

The committee also discussed a subcommittee report on outliers, which Bickford presented. He said the committee formed the subcommittee last February to “review procedural issues raised by the Outlier partnership” and to better understand the new program. Outlier offers online courses in limited fields of study, and since 2019, the University offers credits to students who have successfully completed these online programs.

Bickford said the committee asked representatives from Provost Ann Cudd’s office – as well as the Pitt’s Johnstown campus, where the program is also implemented – to respond to the Outlier report, but none responded.

“We had a real challenge getting Pitt Johnstown management to engage with us, as well as the Provost’s Office to engage with us,” said Bickford. “I open this for discussion to committee members and other guests who have read and engaged in the report.”

Melinda Ciccocioppo, professor of psychology, argued in an editorial from June 2020 that aberrant courses attract students because of their accessibility, but also present “big differences” from courses taught by Pitt professors. Ciccocioppo argued that she was concerned about the teaching, materials and the course’s lack of student-teacher connection.

Bickford declared a flaw in the outlier program is that the courses offered differ in many ways from the Pitt courses and often do not transfer easily.

“Outlier courses have different course numbers and are created and taught by non-Pitt teachers. They are not easily accepted for equivalent requirements, ”said Bickford. “We determined that the process raised serious questions. “

Ryan Yeager, the student representative of the College of General Studies Student Government, said Outlier is an attractive alternative to obtaining credits.

“It’s really great to have these options, not only affordable but also more accessible,” Yeager said. “Obviously it’s really great, but we want it to meet the standards and help us move forward in our educational progress. Anything we can do to get cheap credit and make it count is a really good option. “

Morgan Pierce, a graduate student in the history department, said she was wary of classes taught by professors outside the university due to discrepancies in material, which most students are unaware of.

“A lot of times when students come into college, they don’t really think about how content is generated in their classes, but that’s actually a very important piece,” Pierce said. “This is a major concern for me and it appears to be in line with the concerns expressed by the professors themselves regarding this new program. “

The committee also discussed concerns about the lack of communication about the program as a whole. Irene Frieze, a psychology professor, said she was concerned that students would have difficulty getting help with classes through Outlier.

“If they have any questions, they have no one to talk to. They call the Outlier office and they talk to a secretary who has no knowledge of psychology, ”said Frieze. “We think a lot of these courses don’t have good academic components. “

The committee voted in favor of adopting the outliers report and plans to send it to the Faculty Assembly for further discussion.

Denman said the committee should bring together a larger group of people – all of whom have interests in the issue – to have a more focused discussion.

“I think there should be a broader conversation. Much of the confusion and anxiety around Outlier stems from the fact that there hasn’t been a lot of communication about what it is, what it does and how we are supposed to interact with it. Denman said. “We should get together for a discussion, and maybe an agreement, on how to proceed. “

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