Saturday, December 31, 2011

Southern Opposes Housing Upgrade

The Southern, usually a reliable source of support for the SIUC administration, has editorialized against the planned upgrade of campus housing, arguing that SIUC needs to turn around enrollment and somehow secure stable state funding before embarking on a major new construction project. I'm not sure, frankly, how to evaluate the housing plan. My understanding is that the new construction is to be paid for via housing fees; what is unclear is how much said fees will need to increase in order to pay for the new construction (a question I would have asked in the Faculty Senate had I been on my game). The new housing will be more attractive--not a hard bar to cross when the comparison is with the towers. And it does seem to me that more human scaled housing could well result in a better experience for our students. Finally, it is foolish to argue that we need to wait for stable state funding to do anything--state funding will not be stable any time soon. It will presumably continue its long-term decline, at least in real (inflation corrected) terms.

But the standard concern expressed on this blog--that money will be steered toward amenities rather than academics--may still apply. Student fees that are increased in order to pay for new housing could have gone elsewhere, including, as always, remaining in our students' pockets; though here students will at least have the option of living off-campus. Given the glut of student housing, cheap options are no doubt available off-campus, though they will not always be of the most attractive kind.

Okay, a brief last of 2011 post will have to do. Now I have to go see if my nine year old son needs any assistance in helping his cousins build a fort of blankets and pillows--what counts as a rockin' New Years Eve for this blogger.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Unhappy New Year Budget Tidings

The Southern reported today (12/26) that President Poshard believes the SIU system may be in line for a $10 million cut next fiscal year (FY 2013). While the story did not give Poshard's reason for this belief, this sounds like more than the usual vague negative prognostications. SIUC's share of that cut would be "about $6 million". To put that in perspective, it's about as much as we lost when we lost the $7 million in federal stimulus money in FY 2011--the FY of the furloughs.

Of course that year we had a nice long fight about just how bad the budget was. So how bad would this be? The rest of the numbers in the Southern story are difficult to follow (in part because some are for the SIU system rather than solely for SIUC). One quick stab at context: SIUC's total combined revenue for FY 2012, including state appropriations and tuition and fees, but not other sources, is budgeted to be $279 million. This is SIU's estimate from the FY 2012 "Budget Book", but will be accurate enough as a ballpark figure. So a cut of $6 million out of $279 million is about 2% cut to our overall budget. 2% doesn't sound all that bad, but given that many of our costs are fixed or relatively fixed, and given years of small but significant cuts, this cut would hurt.  It would not be  devastating--I can't see how it could possible reach a level anyone would call a "financial exigency". But we could very well hear furlough talk again. I do hope that this time around, should that talk arise, we will have more in the way of genuine conversation & negotiation and less in the way of top-down dictates. If faculty and others are given a real role in helping to determine and understand what their fair share of any cuts may be, and how those cuts are to be assigned, we could emerge from cuts without damage to morale doubling down on the fiscal damage. That would show that SIUC had learned something from 2011.

Happy New Year.