UA climbs out of $43.6M hole caused by state

By Mika Mandelbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Departments cutting back on spending to offset budget woes

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series focusing on university debt as a result of state budget cuts. Today's article focuses on how the UA has cut back its own expenses to make up for the loss. Tomorrow's article focuses on what the UA is doing in terms of future funding to avoid cutting additional faculty, staff and courses.

Every semester, marketing senior Scott Campbell pays an extra $250 to help the Eller College of Management retain top faculty so it can remain a top-20 business school.

But after two graduate students became last-minute instructors for one of his core economics classes, rather than a full-time professor, Campbell said he is not seeing the results of his college fee.

"The costs are rising out of control," Campbell said. "The costs are outpacing inflation, yet I haven't noticed any improvement in the quality of my education."

Rising costs, added fees, and poor retention and recruitment of faculty are some of the many problems at the UA that are getting worse as public universities continue to suffer from severe state budget cuts that have totaled nearly $43.6 million in the past four years, said Budget Director Dick Roberts.

While cutting from the UA's budget, the state Legislature has simultaneously increased the cost of employee benefits by almost $6 million, bringing the UA's total budget deficit to just shy of $50 million, Roberts said.

With another round of cuts this year totaling just under $1 million, UA officials speculate that it's unlikely the state will ever fund higher education at the level it did before.

"We have to accept the fact that these changes are not temporary. They're permanent," said President Peter Likins.

Administrators successfully reduced costs and offset all but $1.2 million of the state cuts, but the UA is now a much leaner university that is still under some financial stress, Roberts said.

After the first state cuts, administrators put a hiring freeze into effect, reduced staff by more than 300 people and initiated steps toward phasing out certain academic programs, Likins said.

This also marked the start of a series of record-breaking tuition increases.

But tuition money has gone largely to financial aid, which has grown 132 percent over the past four years, leaving only a small portion to help offset the state cuts, Roberts said.

"There has been an enormous increase in tuition, but the net tuition revenues did not grow enough to make up for the shortfalls in the state money," Likins said.

When the state slashed more funds, the UA hiring freeze continued and deans of colleges and department heads were asked to find ways to cut back on expenses as part of the Focused Excellence initiative, Likins said.

Like many departments across campus, the department of chemistry has had difficulties finding ways to cut expenses, said department head Mark Smith.

"There is no fat to trim off this department," Smith said. "So we have to lay people off."

Because of the budget cuts, the chemistry department has lost one staff member per year since 2001 and has cut back significantly on equipment replacement and operational costs, Smith said.

"We decided we won't have undergraduates suffer for these cuts," Smith said. "We're not canceling courses."

Permanent reductions

  • FY 2001-02 reductions $16,594,000
  • FY 2002-03 reductions
    Part one $8,176,400
    Part two $17,873,700
    Total $42,644,100
  • Cabinet/central options $403,800
    President & reporting VPs $4,575,300
    Business affairs $6,574,600
    Provost & reporting VPs $6,568,900
    College/academic $19,916,000
    Health sciences $5,735,700
    Strategic saves** ($1,130,200)
  • ** In FY 2001-02, certain reductions were reversed in order to maintain adequate class availability.

Instead of eliminating classes, chemistry students are experiencing much larger courses, including discussion sections that have as many as 50 students enrolled.

There are also no honors chemistry classes because of the cuts, Smith said.

Many other departments, particularly those in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, are struggling because they have an increasing number of majors and decreasing number of faculty, leaving little room to reduce expenses, said department of history head Karen Anderson.

Since the budget cuts, the history department has lost 7.5 faculty members and replaced only 3.5, Anderson said, including part-time faculty who count as one-half of one faculty member.

"They just let you decline by attrition, so when people retire and leave, you can't replace them," Anderson said. "A good university doesn't have to sacrifice faculty to pay its bills."

This year, the history department was also forced to limit its computer purchases.

"We're having to dip into donation funds to pay for the things that the state should be paying for," Anderson said. "I don't know where it will end. We have a little cushion right now, but the cushion will disappear."

The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is in the biggest crisis because there are fewer opportunities for research grants and contracts, which ultimately bring in more money, Anderson said.

But the college has been more productive than it's ever been in terms of grants, and the university is investing more money in Social and Behavioral Sciences than any other college, said Provost George Davis.

Employees new to the UA, like Paul Portney, the dean of the Eller College, are aware they are working with limited resources, but Portney said he fears having to experience big budget cuts.

"Luckily for me I haven't been through one of these serious budget reduction exercises yet," Portney said. "If that does come to pass, though, I can tell you that it hurts in a variety of ways."

Academic departments are not the only places suffering from the reductions, Likins said. Facilities Management, which is responsible for the upkeep of the university among other things, is also strapped for funding.

Non-academic departments took two times the reductions that the academics took, leaving Facilities Management with 126 fewer full-time employees than it had four years ago, Roberts said.

Chelsea Macpherson, a studio art sophomore, said she's noticed more trash accumulating on campus since her first semester 1 1/2 years ago.

"You can see it," Roberts said. " The campus is not quite as clean, and it isn't standing quite as tall as it used to simply because they don't have the manpower to get it done."

The university has put more trashcans around campus to try to encourage people to throw their trash away and help alleviate extra work for the Facilities Management staff, Roberts said.

Ultimately, the cuts are happening at public universities everywhere, showing higher education as a relatively low priority compared to other state issues like health care and corrections, said state House Rep. Ted Downing, D-Ariz.

"I disagree with those priorities," Downing said. "I am the first to say higher education is underfunded."

The underfunding and the reoccurring problems it causes do little to help seniors like Campbell, he said.

It's time for someone to take responsibility and create a solution that works, Campbell said.

"In the three-and-a-half years at the U of A, all I've seen is the U of A remain a mediocre public university, watch the administration let costs go out of control and feel more and more vulnerable," Campbell said. "It's frustrating because all I hear is how the university is on a path to become an Ivy League school in the desert."