Office of the Provost


To: Faculty and Staff of Provost's Area Units

From: James V. Maher

Date: April 17, 2000

Re: Enhancing Our Academic Programs

I am writing, as I do each year, to provide you with my perspective on the opportunities available to our academic programs and to ask your help in driving further improvements through your participation in the implementation of the plans for your program. In his recent address to the Plenary Session of the University Senate, Chancellor Nordenberg surveyed the current state of the University and articulated his vision for the next phase of the University's development. The description he provided is one of a very good university which, with careful planning and well coordinated effort, can become significantly better. We can already be particularly proud of our accomplishments because, by the standards of almost all other universities, our performance is far better than would be expected from our available resources. This is even more pronounced now than it was a few years ago since our recent successes have largely been financed through internal reallocation.

As the Chancellor reported, we have made significant progress in enhancing our resources during the past three years. This has come partly through enlisting the government of the Commonwealth to supplement its normal increments in our base appropriation by providing funds for both capital expenses and special one-time appropriations. In addition, we have seen constant improvement in the annual raising of private funds, with private fundraising more closely focused on our academic mission than ever before.

While we continue to strive to enhance the resources available to the University=s programs, we must also continue to improve our programs on an ongoing basis to be the best they can be in the current context. During the past several years, you have become used to annual plans being so closely tied to budgets that earlier questions about the relevance of planning no longer occur. Now that most schools of the University have clear plans with an understanding of the resources which will be available and a clear set of goals for program improvement, it is important that our annual planning and budgeting process be a reflection on the past year=s successes, on the desirability of mid-course corrections to the unit plan=s goals, and on the possibility of enhancing revenue streams B thus becoming a mechanism that drives us to develop a culture of continuous improvement. Only in that way can we hope to achieve the attractive enhancement of stature among America's best universities that we all want and that is envisioned in the Chancellor's statement to the Senate.

Before addressing the school-based planning on which our academic enhancements will depend, let me remind you of the three centrally driven elements of University planning which support the environment in which the students, faculty and staff of the University must operate their programs.

As you know, the ten-year Facilities Plan provides a means for ensuring that our existing facilities would be renovated, that new buildings would be constructed, and that space would be allocated in support of the academic priorities identified in our strategic planning process. We have seen the fruits of this Plan throughout the University, including the regional campuses. The Commonwealth's political leaders view us as a worthwhile investment and have released significant capital funds, which we are using to support specific projects outlined in the Facilities Plan. During the current academic year, various academic support units have been relocated to the renovated Masonic Temple. We have upgraded laboratories, renovated classrooms, wired residence hall rooms for information technology access. We have built and continue to expand the Bouquet Gardens apartment complex for undergraduate juniors and seniors. Pitt Stadium has been demolished to make way for the John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center. Construction has just begun on the Multi-purpose Academic Complex. Our Greensburg campus opened its first academic village last fall (with more to come), and the Bradford campus' gymnasium expansion is about to begin.

Over the course of the last few years, we have carefully drafted a Technology Plan, which has been a topic of broad discussion this term. The foundations for this Plan were the needs of our academic programs for instructional technology, the needs of our scholars/researchers/learners for computing and information resources, and the needs of our University Community for appropriate management information. This comprehensive approach to providing the information technology the University needs is linking the five University campuses as never before, with library resources and the Pittnet most visibly ubiquitous.

Throughout these efforts we have continued to address a variety of issues related to student life. The immensely successful Pitt Arts Program is introducing Pitt students to the rich cultural diversity of the City. The Pitt Pathway invites undergraduates to explore career options with academic advisors, focus on long-term aspirations that may arise through activities as volunteers, and apply this knowledge to selecting courses that will earn the degree that will prepare them for a career to fulfill their goals. Each of the past several years has seen a significant addition to the recreational facilities available to our students, and this year is no exception, with the opening of the Bellefield Hall swimming pool scheduled for September. Nevertheless, our Pittsburgh campus students express a legitimate desire for a "real student union." As we investigate what elements are missing from the William Pitt Union, we find that most are already planned to be in the Petersen Events Center. Again, all campuses of the University are included in this renewed emphasis on student life, with some programs shared throughout the University and others tailored more closely to the specific goals of a given campus. Later this Spring I plan to send all of you on the Pittsburgh campus a comprehensive review of student life activities on that campus.

At the school level, strategic planning has continued with annual fine tuning of academic and budget plans from every school and unit of the University. The resulting reallocations have produced dramatic shifts of resources toward high priority programs and activities in each of our schools. As we continue to strengthen the quality of our academic programs and attract both student applicants and new faculty colleagues with superior credentials, we intend that carefully planned investments will allow us to raise the reputations of some of our better offerings even more dramatically, contributing to an overall increase in the reputation of the University as a whole. Current resources could not support immediate investments in all programs, but the success of the first wave of investments should allow us to bring all of our programs up in the subsequent stages of our development. In the meantime, all programs can improve through the continuous attention to improvement that is encouraged by our planning and budgeting process.

It is no secret that we have been preparing for a Capital Campaign in support of our academic mission. Such a fundraising effort has the potential for great ramifications in the future development of academic programs throughout the institution. The careful work that has gone into the implementation of the Facilities Plan, the Technology Plan, the selection of student life issues to be addressed, and our school-level strategic planning process leave us poised for success in this Capital Campaign, whose public phase will begin in the coming fall. I urge you to rally around this fundraising effort, to do your part by participating in Capital Campaign activities and by contributing to your department=s or school's Campaign. Your attitude toward the Campaign, as expressed in numerous interactions with neighbors, government officials, members of the press, and potential donors, will have a profound effect on the success of the Campaign, including the success of fundraising for your own program. External donors will be far more generous to Pitt if they can be assured that we, the members of the University Community, are fully committed to the efforts that are necessary to realize our ambitious academic aspirations.

cc: Chancellor's Senior Staff Council of Deans

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