Q&A With Paul A. Supowitz

Issue Date: 
February 23, 2015

Several hundred members of the University of Pittsburgh community will travel to the state Capitol on March 4 for the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni will meet with legislators throughout the day, explaining the importance of Pitt as an educator of the nation’s brightest students and as a vital economic engine in Western Pennsylvania. The Pitt Chronicle’s Jane-Ellen Robinet interviewed Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for community and governmental relations.

How important is it for Pitt faculty, staff, students, and alumni to make a large showing in Harrisburg? 

Paul A. Supowitz

Pitt Day in Harrisburg is the one day during the year when the University of Pittsburgh has an overwhelming presence throughout the Capitol. We meet with legislators, exhibit the fruits of research and educational efforts, and impress upon lawmakers the University of Pittsburgh’s important role in educating Pennsylvania’s best and brightest students and serving as a powerful economic engine.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg have many competing demands for the very limited resources that they have to allocate in the state budget. It is vital that they hear input from their constituents and Pennsylvania citizens regarding the importance of public higher education, and in particular, Pennsylvania’s public research universities.

What will Pitt’s message to legislators be on March 4? Is there anything that will differentiate it from years past?

We have come out of a period of large and disproportionate cuts followed by three years of flat funding. Pitt’s message to legislators and Governor Wolf’s administration will focus on the importance of reversing recent funding trends so Pitt can continue—and accelerate—its role in educating students for the new knowledge economy and serving as a powerful engine of economic growth and prosperity. 

What do you personally do on this day?  Visit with legislators in their offices?

I will be making visits to legislators and administration officials along with Chancellor Gallagher. I will also be available throughout the Capitol to answer questions and ensure that the day goes as smoothly as possible.  

What kind of feedback have you received from legislators about Pitt’s strategy of having the University community carry the message to Harrisburg?

Legislators are emphatic about the need to hear from constituents, and thus they welcome the input they receive during Pitt Day. The event offers the unique opportunity for students to provide input first-hand about the value of a Pitt education. Consistently, year after year, legislators comment on how impressed they are with Pitt students. 

Alumni and staff participating in Pitt Day are also able to deliver a powerful message to their representatives and senators, as our elected officials take particular note of information received from their own constituents. 

What are your expectations about the outcome for Pitt in this year’s budgeting process? 

While it is extremely early in the process, it is encouraging that Governor Wolf has been very clear in articulating the vital importance of public education, including higher education. Having said that, the Commonwealth is facing a $2 billion-plus structural deficit that needs to be addressed, so it will be a challenging environment.

Is there anything else that you would like to say regarding the importance of this event to Pitt?

Pittsburgh is about as far away from our state Capitol as you can be and still be in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s vitally important for legislators from around the state to understand the role and importance of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt Day is a great facilitator of that. It is also an enjoyable day and a great learning experience. Finally, it’s great to see the Capitol awash in Blue and Gold!