Are 5% Budget Cuts Fair?
by Silence Dogood

The FYE enrollment at SCSU has declined from FY10 to FY14 by 17.8%. The administration has also projected a 4-5% decline for FY15. As a result of enrollment declines, the administration has finally acted. As a result of enrollment declines, the administration has finally acted and last week has taken back 5% across the board from department’s budgets. One might say that it’s great that the administration has finally decided to do something to plug the $8,000,000 – $10,000,000 shortfall they say now exists. Others might ask why it’s taken so long to act and that across the board cuts are inherently unfair.

The following figure shows FYE production by school/college from FY12 through FY14 (The data was provided by the administration). The abbreviations are School of Education (SOE), College of Liberal Arts (CLA), College of Science and Engineering (COSE), School of Public Administration (SOPA), School of Health and Human Services (SSHS), and Herberger Business School (HBS).

Clearly, not all schools/colleges have declined by the same amount. Only COSE shows an increase in FYE from FY13 to FY14. Using FY12 as the baseline, the following figure shows the percentage change in FYE production for FY14 for each of the colleges/schools.

While it is clear that all of the schools/colleges are down, it is also very clear that the enrollment decline has hit some schools/colleges much harder than others. From FY12 through FY14, FYE enrollment declined 11.0%. As a result, some schools/colleges improved their position relative to the others during this decline while others have lost ground.

Even though the percent decline is nearly four times greater for the School of Education than the College of Science and Engineering, President Potter’s solution is to cut 5% across the board. While we normally like to think it is fair to treat everyone the same, sometimes treating everyone the same is patently unfair when you know that everyone is not the same.

Cutting budgets unilaterally does not take into account the differences in performance. Both CLA and SSHS have dropped by approximately the same percentage as that experienced by the university. SOE and SOPA have dropped by nearly twice the percentage as that experienced by the university (let’s call them the losers). COSE and HBS have declined significantly less than that experienced by the university (let’s call them the winners). In life there are always winners and losers. However, in this case, by cutting unilaterally, it doesn’t make a difference if you have been a winner or a loser.

As a result, cutting unilaterally will hurt the very schools/colleges that have been successful during this most recent period of enrollment decline. If you are drowning, you probably aren’t too concerned about fairness so unilateral cuts may be the expedient thing to do as well as the simple thing to do. But it may also certainly not the smartest thing to do.

If you spend any time looking at SCSU’s budget, the vast majority of the budget is already committed to salaries and other expenses (such as debt service, electricity, etc…) that cannot easily be cut. Salaries for faculty and staff make up the largest percentage of the budget. Eliminating tenured faculty is typically not an easy or a quick thing to do. Administrators and staff have contracts that can be terminated with appropriate notification. In the case of administrators, 90 days notification is all that is necessary. Adjuncts, fixed-terms, overload and reassigned time are easier targets. Unfortunately, the adjuncts and fixed-term faculty are some of the lowest cost faculty and at the same time generate very large numbers of credits. In some cases, eliminating these people is not sound academic or fiscal policy.

The most unfortunate part of this situation is that, for the past few years, President Potter denied that a problem even existed! By not recognizing the problem early enough, drastic measures will need to be taken. Now that the problem of declining can no longer be ignored, President Potter has decided to take the easy way out. Knowing how things have been going the past few years, this is hardly unexpected.

One Response to “SCSU’s impending budget cuts?”

  • Crimson Trace says:

    If your ship starts to take on a little water, it’s a lot easier to deal with the problem right away instead of waiting until the bow goes underwater. Gary, you’ve followed this for quite some time now. Is it realistic to think an $8 to $10 million dollar budget deficit at SCSU will now be solved using a 5% across the board cut without laying off employees? If you ask me, it’s like having the captain ordering his crew to bail water out of the ship using their teaspoons.

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