Caught Between a rock and a hard place

Caught Between a rock and a hard place

Rachel Steingard

The university budget cuts have been an obvious cause for concern for administrators, legislators and student leaders. For as much attention as some have given the crisis, most students do not yet realize the impact it will have on their education. It is noticeable that the fountains are not turned on and the grass is slowly turning brown, but when it really comes down to it, most students do not understand the potentially devastating effects that the more intangible aspects of the budget crisis will have on the University of Arizona.

“”At times like this we have to look at the core of who we are and the core of why we are here,”” Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Tommy Bruce said.

Major changes like employee lay-offs and the closing of programs are beginning to chip away at the foundation of the university.

“”We have cut and cut and cut, there is no more low-hanging fruit, there are no more limbs to cut off. It is time to cut the heart of the university,”” Bruce said.

University structure to change dramatically

The University of Arizona is quickly condensing and trimming the excess in an effort to save money.

Most recently, the College of Fine Arts was merged with the College of Letters and Sciences to create the massive College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, which now encompasses half the undergraduate student population.

Although these mergers were originally a part of the UA Transformation process, they are now being used to close the budget deficit facing the university.

Vice President of External Relations Steve McCarthy said the changes that will occur in the College of Fine Arts merger would be virtually unnoticeable to students. He said that while the university will be saving millions of dollars, students will get the benefit of working with other colleges while still maintaining the same level of advising.

According to UA President Robert Shelton, the model that the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is following is not unique. He said out of the 36 public universities who are a part of the Association of American Universities, about three-fourths of them use a major comprehensive college.

“”The goals behind it are: first, to reduce administrative overhead so we don’t have duplications of offices; secondly, to promote more cross-disciplinary opportunities for both faculty and their scholarship and their students and their education and scholarship,”” Shelton said. “”I think that it should be not just seamless but also an advantage for students once it’s in place.””

Another inevitable reality facing the university is the closure of some programs.

The list of programs that will be closed has not been released, however Vice Provost Gail Burd said the Deans already know what programs will be closing.

The departments that were chosen to close were not just small programs – they could be larger programs that either are not graduating enough students or are not nationally recognized, Burd said.

She emphasized that students whose programs or departments will be cut will be allowed to complete the program they started.

“”There are a number of degree programs that will go to the Board of Regents next week asking for closure of the programs. These are programs that by and large aren’t graduating anybody or who have no enrollments for a long time,”” Shelton said. “”More cuts depend on what the (fiscal year) ’10 budget looks like. We are going to hold our hiring freeze for now and we are going to see what the numbers are.””

According to ASUA Student Body President Tommy Bruce, students will receive help from the university in trying to figure out different major options and creating more flexibility in the curriculum so that students will be able to graduate in a “”reasonable amount of time””.

“”It is important for people to know that the university is going to do everything in order to support all the students who are currently here and who will be here in the future,”” Bruce said. “”Meaning if we are forced into closing programs in order to essentially keep the doors open, those students who are currently in the programs are not just going to be cut off to the world.””

Faculty face furloughs, termination, while classes grow

Another grim result of a tight pocketbook is that students’ in-class experience may be altered due to staff reductions and increased class sizes.

Starting in the fall semester of 2010, state-paid employees of the UA will be forced to take furlough days, or unpaid leave.

According to Burd, a furlough is a temporary way to increase funds because it borrows money from next fiscal year’s budget.

She said it is a very short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Burd anticipated the furloughs to operate on a system where the number of furlough days would be directly linked to salary.

“”I think there is going to be a differential program with administrators taking the biggest hit as far as days they have to be furloughed down to staff who make less money.”” Burd said.

The furloughs are expected to range from three to seven days based on pay.

While all teachers will be taking a stint of unpaid leave, many will be facing a worse scenario – unemployment.

According to Graduate and Professional Student Council President Stephen Bieda, there will be 600 full-time employees cut from the university next semester.

But Bieda said the 600-person reduction is somewhat misleading. Each teaching assistant is counted as a one-quarter time employee, not a full time employee. So four teaching assistants could be lost in the place of one full-time employee.

“”It’s easier to put into perspective when you see … we could potentially loose 720 teaching slots,”” Bieda said.

He said it is very likely that many teaching assistant slots will not be filled next year. He said this will mean less discussion classes and the ratio of TAs per student will increase drastically.

Burd said the university is working to ensure that all students have a seat in the classes they need, and increasing class sizes will help accomplish this.

She said the administration is looking into using Centennial Hall for instruction.

Burd explained that the biggest need for expanding class sizes is in some of the general education classes, followed by some basic business and economics classes.

“”It would probably be a class of around 700 students as opposed to 150. The biggest classroom we have right now and it seats about 530 students,”” Burd said.

She said they are looking at “”dynamic faculty”” who are known for engaging students with interactive teaching styles to tackle the massive classes.

“”Some of the faculty who teach in there do a really good job and the key is to identify some of the faculty who are good with teaching those big classes.””

Fees and tuition to close budget gap of $78 million created by Legislature’s cuts since 2008

As the UA administration looks ahead to the next fiscal year, it is virtually impossible to predict the cuts that may occur or the further hardships the university could face.

According to Shelton, the administration has to plan for the unknown.

The heads of all state agencies, including the UA, were recently asked by the Office of State Planning and Budget, which is a subdivision of the Governor’s office, to tell the state what the predicted impact would be for a five, 10, 15 and 20 percent cut for FY ’10.

“”It’s hard to know what will be cut in 2010 because we don’t know what the numbers will be,”” Shelton said. “”What we would do is try to deal with 2010 cuts in two ways. We would have to take some cuts, but also look for some additional revenue. My sense is that we know how to deal with ’09 and now our attention is going to fiscal year 2010.””

As for the prominent concern of most students, tuition, no numbers are certain yet. According to Shelton, although tuition levels are still up in the air, student fees will almost certainly increase. He said that most likely there will be more proposals to the Arizona Board of Regents in order to pass more fees.

“”The beauty of fees is that they have a very specific approach, a very specific use. I think some would be library, student health, advising,”” Shelton said. “”They would go for those purposes. There might also be some course fees that would go for specific courses for both graduates and undergraduates as well.””

Bieda said the reality of the fees is a more dire situation than is being let on.

“”A figure that is being tossed around from the administration is that for every 20 million that the state cuts that will be $1,000 in additional fees to keep the university running, so in the best case scenario if the state cuts $50 million in FY ’10 we are looking at about $2,500 extra in fees per year, per student,”” Bieda said. “”If we go with the worst-case scenario where the state proposes $155 million in cuts, well, you can imagine.””

The budgetary twists and turns the university has gone through this year have created a maze of monetary confusion.

Shelton said that at the beginning of 2008, the University of Arizona started with a budget of $440 million dollars from the state of Arizona alone. In the beginning of 2009, the university took a cut of $22 million, reducing the budget to $418 million.

The most recent cut, which occurred mid-year, was a loss of $56 million, depleting the budget to $362 million.

“”The cuts were proportional for all three universities. Ours are typically around 40 percent so we have, through a lot of effort of deans and vice presidents, found those dollars and are ready to close the books on ’09,”” Shelton said. “”We are hoping there will not be any further cuts in ’09. I don’t think there is a good chance of further cuts in ’09 but it depends on the collections and those are not doing well right now.””

According to Burd, the conservative spending pattern at the beginning of the school year set the UA up for less detriment when later budget cuts were made.

Burd said the university was especially careful with the money it got back from the state for tuition dollars.

“”We knew that we were getting into a bad fiscal situation starting in September; there was a hiring freeze that was not completely solid, but the idea was not to spend that money without permission,”” Burd said. “”The idea was not to spend that money and give that money back so the units could give that money back because of the budget cuts.””

Legislature may eliminate board of regents

At the state level, the Arizona Board of Regents works to advocate for higher education, but recent budget cuts and proposed bills are shaking the foundation of the system.

Most administrators and students at the university agree that the Arizona Board of Regents serves as an important representative for the state-wide university system.

“”Basically our job is to make education affordable, accessible, and the cost of it predictable for higher education students. We want to make it as available to as many as possible. The most recent cut devastated us,”” ABOR Vice President Ernest Calderón said. “”Now I recognize (legislators) are struggling with major budget crunch and so I can understand they had to do something. I don’t think the budget cuts that were made were fair to students, in particularly first-generation kids who are trying to get a higher education.””

Currently there are two proposed bills in the legislature that concern ABOR.

With the first proposed bill, three advisory committees, one for each state university, would replace the Board of Regents. Members of the legislature would staff the committees. The other proposed bill would keep the Board, but separate it into three committees and then appoint one member from the House and one from the Senate.

“”I think the current structure works extremely well. I think it provides a unifying theme for three very different universities, each of which contribute greatly to the state. I am very much in favor of the current structure.”” Shelton said.

According to Bieda, the state legislature is trying to micro-manage the state universities as opposed to having the universities and the Board of Regents decide where the money would be best allocated.

“”We feel ABOR does a very good job in representing the three universities jointly,”” Bieda said. “”Breaking it down into three individual universities would not be beneficial for any of the three universities because then it will come down to sniping, fighting and picking and choosing, which is not exactly something we would like to see.””

While ABOR is in the midst of a possible restructure, or potential non-existence, the Arizona Students Association is working to represent state universities through protests and meetings with legislators

“”I have had several meetings with the speaker of the House, Kirk Adams, which is very rare because they heard about our protests which shows that they care about us and what we are doing matters,”” ASA Chair Michael Slugocki said. “”When the Speaker of the House calls up a small non-profit representing students you know you have made a difference. We are meeting with representatives from both sides of the table. We are looking to get the student voice out there.””