January 28, 2009

Univ. Budget Cuts Plague Slope Day

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One of Cornell’s most visible student events appears to have fallen victim to the University-wide budget cuts that were announced earlier this week.
Slope Day, the annual concert held on Libe Slope on the last day of spring semester classes, will receive significantly less funding from the University, which has historically offered financial support for the event, according to Mandy Hjellming ‘09, chair of the Slope Day Programming Board.
Hjellming said that this the SDPB will be forced to cover an estimated $70,000 that the University had provided in the past for logistical and infrastructural expenses. That figure is a low estimate and the actual deficit could actually be higher, she said.
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ‘69 said that cuts to University funding of Slope Day have not yet been finalized.
“We haven’t made any official decision,” he said, “The University is facing some very serious financial challenges, and inevitably they’ll be reflected in what we can spend on Slope Day.”
However, Hubbell said that it was a “fair characterization” to say the University would be decreasing its expenditures for Slope Day.
The decreased financial support will have an impact on the funds available to hire musical artists, Hjellming said.
“We’re looking at making cuts in certain areas that costs can go down, like logistical costs,” she said, “But there’s only so far you can go before there have to be cuts in programming. The programming budget will be affected by this.”
She added that while Slope Day will be hosting artists with less expensive price tags this year, the entertainment will not necessarily be worse but rather a matter of personal taste.
Last Saturday, the Board of Trustees approved a five-percent cut to the University’s operating budget for the Ithaca campus beginning this July. An additional five-percent cut will take effect the following year. President David Skorton said earlier this week that the cuts will affect all units of the University and strategic planning had begun on which programs would be scaled back or eliminated.
The trustees also extended the University’s external hiring pause and construction pause to June 30. In addition, the trustees approved a tuition raise and a suspension of a staff salary raise program in an attempt to turn around the University’s grim financial outlook as a result of a decline in revenue from the endowment, charitable contributions and state funding.
Hubbell said that while the administration had been watching the economic situation closely, the announcement that departments need to reduce their budgets by five percent will surely impact how much money is earmarked for Slope Day.
“Five percent for [the Dean of Student’s budget] is almost a slope day,” he said, “So in a sense [the equivalent of] a ‘Slope Day’ has come out of our budget.”
Hubbell added that his goal is to have no layoffs in his office, which will mean existing staff will have to share in the workload of positions that are already vacant.
Historically, the University has footed a sizeable portion of the Slope Day bill. As the event received more byline funding from the Student Assembly — which allocated $15 of each student’s activity fee to Slope Day in the most recent funding cycle — the SDPB took on more of the costs.
Slope Day is also funded partly by byline funding from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, a topic that has previously sparked controversy between undergraduate and graduate student leaders. Graduate students have argued that they should not have to pay for an event attended mostly by undergraduates. Slope Day organizers, on the other hand, have said that the GPSA should contribute more than the $1.50 per student it contributes from the graduate student activity fee.
Hjellming said that the SDPB is actively seeking other sources of funding from other student groups, though she declined to say which ones.
One important vote will take place on Thursday to determine whether or not the SDPB will receive external funding, she said, and the search for more funding could last a few more weeks. Last year, the CCC provided additional financial support for the entertainment. Members of the CCC, however, declined to comment on whether or not they would help fund Slope Day this year.
Hubbell suggested that Slope Day should take on a more modest tone this year in light of the current recession.
“Slope Day needs to be done proportionally to the financial circumstance,” he said. “We wouldn’t want it to appear lavish compared to the way people are having to comport themselves right now in this economy.”
The Programming Board has not been forced to retract any offers to artists as a result of financial concerns, according to Hjellming.
“We’re pretty confident we can move forward with the selection process,” she said. “We still have some great options. No artist has been finalized yet.”
Both Hubbell and Hjellming are optimistic that regardless of financial challenges, Slope Day will go as planned on May 1.
Hubbell added that he had not heard any talk of cancelling Slope Day this year.
“We can be assured that there will be a Slope Day,” Hubbell said.
“We’ll release the artist information when we have it; there’s no holding back,” Hjellming said. “It will be a fun Slope Day.”