Upcoming budget cuts pose no imminent threat to faculty

By Jackie Glosniak

February 13, 2013

Budget cuts loom in the immediate future across the board at Dominican University. However, most programs and university departments do not seem worried about money issues becoming detrimental for their students and staffs.

On Jan. 29, President Donna Carroll released a statement to faculty and staff via email addressing enrollment and budget shortcomings. Carroll explained different strategies that the administration will soon be implementing in order to reduce the university’s operating budget.

Proposed plans of action that Dominican is looking to enforce include office budget cuts, multiple elective salary reductions, and potential cutbacks amongst faculty and staff.  The administration is also sanctioning reduced vacation days for the staff, resulting in university employees being asked to donate back vacation days above 20 to reduce overall carrying costs.

“Enrollment volatility and declining net revenue are not unique to Dominican,” Carroll wrote in her email. “On the contrary, this is the trend across higher education today, a consequence of the prolonged economic downturn.”

Amy McCormack, senior vice president for administration at Dominican, believes issues with the budget are mostly a reflection of a drop in graduate school enrollment as well as a trend due mostly to the national economy.

“We did not make our enrollment forecast for fall and missed it in the spring, resulting in a potential deficit of $500,000 this year,” McCormack said. Dominican’s total budget is around $80 million.

Regarding major changes due to budget shortfalls, McCormack sees no reason for the Dominican community to worry about major campus shakeups. For example, she believes only around five to ten staff positions are likely to be eliminated within the next year.

“There will be some changes that in the long term will be for the best, but when in small community, it is still hard to embrace those changes,” she said. “While students may be aware of changes, they will not be negatively impacted by them.”

McCormack wants the university to know that any potential restructurings within the disciplines are done with the long-term visions in the best interests of the students.

“We’re looking at where there are inefficiencies or duplications where we may be able to collaborate to improve service cut costs,” she said. “We want to invest in technology and efficiency with less people and with the aid of technology.”

Over the next two years, Dominican is looking to future investments to bring both more students and more revenue for the institution. Some projects currently in the works include an undergraduate nursing program, a weekend Master of Business program, online delivery for classes affiliated with the Graduate School for Library and Information Science, and partnership with community colleges.

“We have had good fortune to budget tightly,” McCormack said. “This is the year we need to take a hard look at our expenses.”

News about Dominican’s budget crisis was not a spur of the moment announcement, as faculty and staff were made aware of the issue at their most recent university assembly. In a follow-up email sent Feb. 5, Carroll elaborated more on her hopes for maintaining a strong budget and specified how the university would be working to do so.

Carroll is looking to assemble a University Oversight Committee consisting of two faculty, two staff, and two administrative members to serve as advisors to Carroll regarding her budget cut plans.

“I know that all of this is hard to hear; and scary, too,” Carroll said. “I do believe that this is an opportunity to build a stronger Dominican.”

Despite various budget issues and opinions looming in the air across campus, several faculty and staff members believe that there are no major consequences to worry about, especially for the undergraduate student population. University employees understand the national state of the economy is far from ideal and are doing their best to remain confident that Dominican is taking the right steps towards securing the financial future of the institution.

Molly Burke, a professor of management with the Brennan School of Business, is not very worried about possible salary reductions or other departmental budget cuts.

“There is nothing that I have heard which has me think that salaries will actually be reduced, though it does seem possible that raises might be limited in a period of budget constraint,” Burke explained. “There is a great commitment to fairness at Dominican and am sure that fairness will govern decisions in this matter too.”

CarrieLynn Reinhard, an assistant professor with the communications department, agrees with Burke and is not very worried about cuts that may hurt her department.

 

“There do not appear to be any serious consideration for doing either, simply because drastic reductions like those would impair the faculty’s ability to provide students with a consistently beneficial and up-to-date curriculum,” she said. “We are being asked to consider how we can continue to provide the education our students expect and deserve without additional, large expenditures.”

“The only budget cut that may immediately affect the art department could be the funding for travel to professional conferences,” Jean Bevier, associate professor of graphic design, said. “Either travel to these conferences will be lessened or will come out of our own pockets.”

English department professor Ellen McManus also believes restrictions on conference travels to be the biggest issue her department is facing.

“Right now, we feel more concerned about how the staff may be affected,” McManus said.  “My general sense is that everyone wants to do what’s best for the institution and doesn’t want one group to have to sacrifice more than others.”

Similarly, faculty and staff believe that the limited changes coming to their departments are reflective of how positively things may shape up across campus.

“I have great confidence in the leadership of the university and feel that they will address the budget in a manner that will not impact the services or educational quality of our institution,” Michael Lango, Director of Student Involvement, said.

“I think Dominican is like many intuitions which are trying to balance increasing costs at the very same time that the state and federal funding for students has declined and a volatile economy and high unemployment have left families much less able to afford higher education,” Burke said. “Dominican has tried to help make up for these financial aid gaps by giving more student support but at the same time, the university is facing rising health care costs, ever increasing expenses of facilities maintenance and growing demands of government regulations.”

Reinhard views this period of uncertainty as a learning moment for both students and staff alike.

“I do think all of us can consider this a time to innovate on what is higher education in America today,” she said.  “This is a great chance for us to have a dialogue to determine what works, and what works best, so as to invest in methods and tools that will increase all of our experiences.”

“The last few years have been tough for colleges and universities in general, so Dominican is not alone and in fact is doing comparatively well,” McManus said, in agreement that this is a college problem nationwide.

“I view this as I would my personal budget,” Lango explained. “There are times when the budget you create for yourself needs to be adjusted due circumstances beyond your control. You tighten your belt and make the necessary adjustments to address the situation.”