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Pitt cuts off some grad applications

Deb Erdley

Citing declining state appropriations, University of Pittsburgh officials quietly suspended admissions to Pitt’s graduate programs in German, religious studies and classics last week, leaving students to fear the move is a first step toward eliminating the programs.

N. John Cooper, dean of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, announced the program cuts in an email distributed to department chairs and directors on April 5. Pitt officials refused to say how much they believe the moves will save but insisted they will not affect undergraduate programs in the three fields.

“Due most urgently to deep and disproportionate budget cuts we have received in commonwealth appropriations, we must suspend admission to their graduate programs immediately and for the foreseeable future,” he wrote. He said the university would “explore additional steps” and would “focus our graduate education resources on the programs that have the most impact.”

Kevin Harley, spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett, countered that, “Over the last few years, most of the businesses and families in Pennsylvania were able to absorb a 2.1 percent reduction in their overall budget, and that is the only reduction we are asking Pitt to make. They are free to make any cuts they want to programs, but to blame it on state funding is not accurate.”

Graduate students in Pitt’s German program, were stunned at the news.

“The decision came out of the blue for our professors. The university administration has never made such sweeping and sudden cuts before, and the effects will be immediately felt by the faculty, graduate and undergraduate student body at Pitt,” said Gavin Hicks.

Pitt has assured students currently in the graduate programs in the three programs that they will be able to finish their degrees.

Hicks, a doctoral candidate in the German program, said he turned down offers from Stanford and the University of Michigan to attend Pitt because of the quality of its program.

“The decision to suspend admission to these programs was a difficult but necessary step given the current budget situation,” Pitt spokesman John Fedele said in an email to the Tribune. He stressed that the programs are not closing but only have suspended new admissions. Pitt did not provide information on the number of graduate students in the programs affected.

Department chairmen in the classic Greek, Roman and Latin studies and religious studies departments did not return calls for comment, and German department Chairman John Lyon said the move was unexpected but declined to elaborate.

Ljudmila Bilkic a doctoral student and teaching fellow in the German department, said there’s no lack of interest in the language at the undergraduate level. “When I first came here in August 2009, I had students who were sitting on the floor or standing in German I because we didn’t have enough seats,” she said.

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg warned last year when lawmakers reduced Pitt’s state subsidy by 22 percent that such cuts would have an impact. Nordenberg repeated the alarm this year when Gov. Tom Corbett proposed another 30 percent cut that would reduce state subsidies from $136.1 million to $95 million next year.

Corbett told students and Pitt officials last month the state does not have the money to continue subsidies and chastised the school for its spending. “The cost of higher education has gotten out of control, and it has to be controlled,” Corbett said, adding that his proposed cut amounts to only 2.1 percent of Pitt’s operating budget.


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