Thursday, April 14, 2016

SIU plans for cuts up to 18%

I've been told that deans at SIUC have been asked to make plans for cuts of up to 18%. I don't know the background for this stage in the planning process. My initial impression is this: so much for the onion.

Cuts to college budgets aren't to "outer layers of the onion", in Dunn's analogy from last summer. They aren't to regional services, student service, athletics, etc. Large cuts to college budgets would mean major cuts in instructional staff. Major cuts to instructional staff, at least if made quickly and legally, would have to be to NTT faculty (GA budgets have already been allocated, at least at a large extent, with some cuts included). Such cuts would be distributed not based on the results of some program prioritization scheme, but simply on which programs have lots of NTT faculty. Those programs face de facto elimination. So we would not just be lopping off selected parts of the university, but eliminating academic programs that happen to be NTT heavy.*
The university's lack of funds isn't an Anthony Hall crisis but a Springfield crisis. But if the administration doesn't do all it can to protect academics, and makes academic cuts in a  ham-handed manner, it will add an Anthony Hall crisis to the mix. We can't afford that.

More context and speculation after the break. I don't know all the details of administrative planning, of course, so my worries may prove unfounded. That would be a happy result. In the meantime, the worries can be taken as my sage advice on how to avoid making this an Anthony Hall crisis.

Don't we simply have to plan for massive cuts in academics if our budget is cut next year? This assuming we even get a budget.
Well, if we get no state funding through the fall, all bets are off. But if these plans are for long-term cuts, it certainly doesn't look like academic budgets are being protected. Simplified budgeting works like this: roughly 50% of our operating budget comes from the state, and 50% from tuition. So for overall revenues to decline by 18%, we'd need Rauner's 20% cut in state funding (producing a 10% cut in SIU funding) plus a massive decline in tuition revenue (from a loss of roughly 15% in enrollment). The planning isn't only for 18% cuts (that's the highest level), but it looks like in the worst case scenario colleges would be cut at least as much as any other units on campus. I.e., there's no visible prioritization in favor of our central mission.

Well what are your ideas for dealing with this, wise guy? 
First if this crisis has shown us nothing else, it's that the university can get by with no state funding, in the short term, by saving massive amounts from non-academic areas. That shows impressive management by the administration, for which they deserve our thanks. It also shows that the simplified math above fails to take account of the vast parts of the university budget that in the past have been considered separate from the operating budget. This should lead us to ask whether similar long-term savings are not possible.

Second, as I noted in an earlier post, 10 years ago we had almost 4,000 more students on campus, but managed to get by with 98 fewer "professional non-faculty". Faculty numbers (tenured & tenure-track) have declined in proportion with declines in enrollment. Why do we need more non-faculty professionals when we have fewer students? And why do we need just as many administrators as we had ten years ago now that we have 20% more students?

Third, other universities have tried, with (EIU) or without (WIU) success, to secure union agreement for furloughs or deferred pay schemes, or simply instituted furloughs, where contracts or their absence allow for that. Such cuts are not in the purview of deans, so these plans would have to be for layoffs. Furloughs and deferred pay are not happy answers, but one wonders if the illegal imposition of furloughs by Cheng has simply taken them off the table this time.

Fourth, and speaking of working with unions, the FA has proposed that the administration redirect student fees toward an "academic emergency fund". That's a short-term solution, of course, as those fees go toward services on campus. But at least some student fees could be redirected in this way to bridge the gap until we get state funding. My understanding is that the administration is bargaining in good faith with unions; but it doesn't seem to have made an effort to bring the unions on board to deal with the current crisis.

I bet you're going to end with a stirring peroration.
The current crisis has already resulted in major long-term harm to all Illinois public universities, and unless miraculously resolved will do much more harm. We can't avoid painful cuts. But campus decisions matter too. We can meet that crisis together, in a principled way, defending our fundamental academic mission as best we can. Or, if cuts are handed down in an arbitrary manner that makes no effort to prioritize our mission, we will find ourselves adding a second crisis, one of local origin. We can't afford that.

* Disclosure: my department is NTT heavy. 

1 comment:

  1. TA funds have been cut by 25%. Some departments fund RAs through grants, so they won't be hit as hard, and some grad programs, like Engineering and Computer Science, have many students paying their own way. But it is a disaster for Math and likely many other departments.

    -Mike Sullivan


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