‘Death by a thousand cuts’: College of Arts & Sciences struggles with budget adjustments

Kynslie Otte

A number of faculty members in the College of Arts & Sciences met on Tuesday, Sept. 9 to discuss adjustments that have been made to the college’s budget over the last several years.
Associate Professor of Economics Erik Olsen, Professor of Economics James Sturgeon, Associate Professor of Anthropology Shannon Jackson and Chair of the Theater Department Tom Mardikes compiled a presentation titled “Death By a Thousand Cuts,” which highlighted issues the College of A&S has faced due to the reallocation of funds throughout the University.
The presentation suggested “a new normalcy” has been established within the University that diminishes the importance of faculty and staff members and focuses instead on higher administration. Olsen, Sturgeon, Jackson and Mardikes believe it is up to A&S faculty members to create change and restore balance between administration and faculty.
“Creation and delivery of curriculum, programs and measures for student success, and all else curricular should be the duty, responsibility and right of the faculty,” Sturgeon said. “The duty of administration is to procure resources necessary to faculty and students and aid in their organization and administration.”
According to the presentation, A&S faculty has gained additional duties but lost rights and privileges without receiving any significant change in salary as compensation. Losses mentioned in the presentation included funding for faculty research grants, travel, physical library books, licenses for survey/research tools and data-bases.
The presentation also stated that A&S has lost office and/or work space, server space, several cleaning services due to outsourcing, printers and funding for refreshments at A&S events. It was also mentioned that start-up funds have been diminished.
In an interview later with U-News, Provost Gail Hackett said the whole University is suffering the consequences of budget cuts – not just the College of A&S.
“We were $19 million in the red when we started planning this year’s budget. That’s very, very, very deep in the red and it’s unlike any other campus in the system, or any other campus in the state,” Hackett said. “It’s because our enrollment went down but our spending did not. [The administration was] really struggling to come up with a balanced budget this year.”
Hackett suggested administration is unable to hire more tenured faculty now as a result of the University’s budget crisis. She explained that the University has taken three significant cuts in state funding over the last several years, which has made the University more tuition-dependent. In addition to decreased funding from the state, the University’s undergraduate enrollment rate has gone down over the last two years, which has reduced the amount of revenue the University has received from tuition. The provost’s office was not able to confirm a specific percentage of drop in enrollment, but indicated that it was significant.
“People are taking a very stringent look at hiring because somewhere around 80% of our operating budget is personnel,” Hackett said. “If you don’t control hiring, you don’t control your budget. That’s what it all comes down to.”
The data presented by the A&S faculty members, however, showed institutional support spending has gone up by 85 percent since 2003, meaning the University has been more financially concentrated on the recruitment and retention of higher administration as opposed to faculty and staff within its respective colleges.
An anonymous department chair quoted in the group’s PowerPoint presentation said:
“Administrative salaries are too high in relation to faculty compensation. The administrative positions tend to turn over, and with each new administrative hire, the salary increases. The argument we hear is that they are within the national norm (or benchmarked). That national norm seems not to apply to faculty and staff salaries. Titles have exploded. It appears to be the method used to promote and compensate administrative staff at a higher rate than the rest of the University. We need to remember, these people do not generate income. The shifting of titles and responsibilities has been a game of hiding salary increases in the administrative ranks – no accountability of administration in the college or departments, even though they are here to support us.”
According to Mardikes, Jackson, Sturgeon and Olsen, A&S faculty now have fewer teacher’s assistants and graduate fellowships, and also fewer graduate programs than the college has had in years past.
The provost suggested graduate programs have been reduced because of budget cuts and lower enrollment rates. In order to resolve budget issues, administration plans to focus first on increasing enrollment rates for undergraduate programs to compensate for losses in other areas of the University.
“Undergraduate programs are, to be perfectly honest, cheaper,” Hackett said. “Graduate programs are very expensive. If you have a lot of expensive graduate programs and fewer undergraduate programs, you end up in trouble. We’re trying to grow undergraduate programs so we can support the more expensive graduate programs.”
The professors also discussed additional duties given to A&S faculty members, including advising, assessment, recruitment, curriculum navigation software, bookkeeping and departmental committee duties.
The presentation cited statistical findings that show the University has lost 54 tenure-track faculty members since 2005 – and 31 faculty members in the last three years alone.
“The faculty are rightfully concerned about it – we’re [the administration] concerned about it,” Hackett said. “What we’re trying to do is: 1) turn the enrollment around, 2) get our budget into a better place and 3) get to a place where we can hire more tenured track faculty.”
The provost also suggested this problem is not unique to the College of A&S.
“University wide, we’re down more than we should be in terms of tenure and tenure-track faculty,” Hackett said. “I don’t want to mislead people and say we don’t have a problem. I do think we’re down more than we should be, and I do think once we can hire again, we will start hiring more tenured and tenure-track faculty members. We’ve got to for the quality of your [the student body’s] academic programs, and also for the sake of research.”
According to the provost, this is another issue the whole University faces as a result of budget cuts.
“I am very sympathetic [to the faculty’s concerns],” Hackett said. “That’s actually my number one priority right now. I can’t print money, but I’m trying to figure out how we can get a pay raise for faculty and staff because we are really falling behind…It’s causing a lot of consternation on campus.”
Recently Jackson circulated a survey among department chairs in the College of A&S to determine what she referred to as “the health of Arts & Sciences.” When asked whether or not faculty morale in the College of A&S was low, Jackson found the participating department chairs’ response was almost unanimously “yes.”
Jackson’s survey also involved questions about faculty salary levels, which many department chairs found to be below the national average. The survey results also suggested workloads have become heavier, and many department chairs feel they are not receiving appropriate administrative support.
One faculty member quoted in the survey, which was done anonymously, said:
“Oak Street administrators seem very far removed from ‘boots on the ground’ realities of faculty.”
Some class sizes have grown and non-tenure-track faculty have generally taken on more responsibilities, and nearly all department chairs who participated in the survey feel there has been a misallocation of resources in the budget model for the College of Arts & Sciences.
“…Benefits initially purported by the budget model have not come to fruition in my department or college,” said a department chair, also quoted in the survey regarding the A&S budget model.
Another department chair quoted in the survey said, “The budget model pits schools and colleges [within the University] against each other.”
The provost suggested the accusations made in the anonymous survey regarding the budget model are false. Hackett explained that the formula for each college’s budget is based on the amount of tuition revenue each college generates versus the cost of running the college. Because the College of A&S’s enrollment rate has dropped more than other colleges within the University, it has lost more funding than others.
Despite losing money and staff, the University’s classes remain small and manageable. The student to faculty ratio is 13:1, and 57 percent of classes have fewer than 20 students enrolled while only 10 percent of classes have 50 or more students.
According to the provost , as administration looks to the future, it intends to accomplish goals established in the University’s Strategic Plan – a document that various faculty, staff, administrators and students created over the course of two years as a plan of action for creating a brighter future for the University.
For Jackson, Mardikes, Olsen and Sturgeon, however, change cannot come soon enough.