Ohio University administrators gained valuable input from the university community last week during four open budget forums.
Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit and Interim Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Angelini hosted four discussions that were designed to gather input on the university?s draft budget recommendations that were released on Feb. 15.
The faculty, staff, and student forums were well-attended and consisted of a mixture of lively debates, suggestions for addressing budget issues, and requests for clarifications on the draft recommendations. Ohio University staff involved with budget planning and representatives from constituent groups served on panels alongside Benoit and Angelini.
Benoit stated before each forum that she intended these discussions to be a part of a transparent, iterative process that would inform a greater university-wide dialogue on the subject. She emphasized that the university community was being brought into the middle of the process rather than at the end thereby having a chance to experience university budgeting complexities first-hand. Angelini, Benoit and other panel members also emphasized that the budget recommendations for FY2011 are one stage in a multiyear budget planning process.
The importance of defining the core priorities of the university, in order to determine where budget reductions could and should be made, was a consistent theme during the forums. Coping with increasing maintenance and utility costs also was presented as a common concern.
Faculty and staff members debated the fiscal responsibility of awarding raises this year in light of the level of the cuts facing the institution. Other payroll-related options were suggested, such as temporarily lowering salaries for the highest-paid employees or offering lower raises than had been previously discussed.
Furloughs were another suggestion at both the staff and faculty forums. However, the panel explained that these would not result in base budget reductions. If furloughs were pursued, they would be used as a one-time cost saving measure in the event of mid-year budget cuts from the state.
Faculty voiced concerns about the loss of class sections, instructional support staff and adjunct faculty. The provost responded that instructional capacity was one of the most important factors that the university tried to protect, but due to the size of the cuts, some impact was inevitable. Benoit also reiterated the need to take into account other core university pursuits such as research and creative activity and the student experience, both academic and extracurricular.
Intercollegiate Athletics was another point of discussion at the forums. When questioned about Athletics, the provost noted that ICA contributes to the student experience, one of the key elements associated with the impact criteria identified at the outset of the budget process. But along with other units that play a role in enriching the student experience they were being asked to rethink their administrative operations. She pointed out that the draft recommendations include significant reductions for ICA in the upcoming fiscal year.
Proposed reductions to Campus Recreation were a topic of concern for attendees at the student forum on Thursday. Discussion focused on how club sports might be affected by a proposed administrative restructuring. Assistant Dean for Recreation and Wellness Doug Franklin suggested that one way to stabilize and improve support for club sports would be to adopt a pay-for-play concept.
The concept, which Franklin said is already being used in some form by every other public university in the state, would cover a majority of the department's reductions. He said a possible $30 per quarter fee from participants, if instituted, would generate an estimated $450,000 in revenue to support the services that the unit provides to students.
Graduate students also expressed concern about the proposed elimination of some graduate stipends and the switching of some stipend funding to external grant money. The provost stated that very few reductions involving graduate student stipends were in the proposed category of the draft recommendations. In the case of moving stipends to external funding, she said the change could bring added benefits to graduate students such as the ability, in some cases, to offer larger stipends and the opportunity to be fuller partners with faculty in research projects, especially in the sciences.
Suggestions and comments from the forums, along with the budget suggestion Web site, will be taken into consideration before the president announces the final set of budget recommendations for fiscal year 2011 at the end of March.
Detailed notes on the faculty, staff, and general budget forums are available on the provost?s Web site.