Office of the Provost


January 30, 2014

Dear Colleagues:

Earlier today I conveyed to the dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and to the chairs of the Classics, German, and Religious Studies departments, my decision to accept the proposals submitted by the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences to continue the suspension of admissions to the graduate programs in Classics and German, and to close the graduate programs in Religious Studies.  In accepting the proposals for Classics and German, I have asked the School to submit proposals to lift the suspensions or to close the programs by May 1, 2016 (German) or May 1, 2018 (Classics), in order to bring closure to the program reviews.  This timeframe should be sufficient for the School to pursue opportunities that have emerged through discussions over the past 18 months for the faculty in these departments to be engaged in innovative interdisciplinary graduate programs.  The longer timeframe for the Classics department is intended to provide sufficient time to rebuild the faculty to a level that will enable it to continue exploring its role in interdisciplinary graduate education while advancing its undergraduate mission.
These proposals have spurred discussion, particularly within the faculty of Arts and Sciences, of the value of graduate education and the humanities --- both of which are core to the mission of any great university --- and raised questions of the processes governing programmatic decisions of this sort.  As I have considered the proposals, I have solicited input through the appropriate governance committees, discussed the proposals with the chairs of the affected departments, and considered the advice from colleagues who have chosen to weigh in on these decisions.  Given the importance of the decisions taken, I am writing to the broader community to share the reasons behind my decisions.
The faculty of Arts and Sciences, which has principal responsibility for the curriculum of the School, through its well-established structure of shared governance was engaged in the development of these proposals and has endorsed them.  Not surprisingly the faculty is not unanimously supportive of these proposals.  The announcement in April of 2012 that these programs were under review for possible closure and the suspension of admissions during the period of review prompted a year-long discussion within the School in which objections were raised and considered; critically, these discussions  helped shape the final proposals. The School’s governance committees reviewed the proposals in the context of the School’s ambitions and budget and endorsed the proposals:  with two members abstaining, the Dietrich School Graduate Council voted to forward the proposals to the Dietrich School Council where the proposals were endorsed with a vote of 9 in favor and 3 opposed, with no abstentions.  The School’s Planning and Budgeting Committee also endorsed the proposals with a vote of 12 in favor and 1 opposed, with no abstentions. 

It is important to recognize that the proposals grew out of the School’s planning process as the designated governance committees struggled with the question of how to allocate increasingly scarce resources in support of its programs.  As noted in the School’s strategic planning document dated March 30, 2012, priority was given to “efforts [with] the best opportunity to have a major national or international impact”; and when faced with potential budget reductions, the Dietrich School concluded that “neither an across the board reallocation by department nor an across the board reallocation by mission could be implemented without damage to our programs.”  As a result, the School decided to strategically target budget reductions and reallocations “in a manner that would improve quality (in line with our ambitions for excellence) and improve efficiency…”   Graduate education was identified as a function in which resources could be reallocated to increase the overall impact of the School’s programs and, with the engagement of the Graduate Council and the Arts and Sciences Council, criteria for evaluation including measures of quality, impact, and cost, were developed.  The dean has assured me that he and the School remain committed to the undergraduate programs in these departments, as do I.  Indeed, the School and the University remain committed to providing a broad-based liberal education including a strong presence of the humanities in the undergraduate programs.

With regard to process, I have carefully monitored the processes followed by the Dietrich School from the time of the initial decision to suspend admissions to the programs, and I agree with the conclusion of the Senate Budget Policies Committee that the processes used in preparing these proposals “met the procedural requirements of the Dietrich School’s Bylaws and the University’s Guidelines for the Review of Academic Planning Proposals.”   One of the most discussed procedural issues has been the timing of the initial announcement that admissions would be suspended while the programs were reviewed.  There is never a good time to make such an announcement; the potential negative impact on the program of an early announcement has to be weighed against the potential negative impact of delaying an announcement on students deciding whether to enroll.  In the present case the Dietrich School weighed in favor of alerting prospective students to the possibility of program closure.

These are very difficult times for universities and the real budgetary concerns that prompted these proposals are not likely to go away any time soon.  Commonwealth support for the University has fallen to the level of 1995 while inflation has caused the costs of operating the University to increase by 53% measured by the CPI, or 77% using the Higher Education Price Index.  Using either measure, the inflation-adjusted annualized appropriation from the Commonwealth in recent years is at the lowest level it has been since the University of Pittsburgh became state-related in FY1967. Federal support for research and graduate education is also in decline, and the current economic conditions and rising levels of student debt are straining graduate students’ and their families’ ability to support the costs of education.
As good stewards of the resources entrusted to us, we are responsible for continuously evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs.  Sometimes this may require making difficult decisions like the ones discussed here. The need to make such decisions is not unique to Pitt, as underscored by announcements of program closure this past semester by institutions in our region and across the country.  At the University of Pittsburgh, we remain committed to making such decisions in accordance with our established structure of shared governance and with the goal of further strengthening the University.


Patricia E. Beeson


about the photo