February 11, 2009

Arts College Divides $6M Cut Differently Across Depts

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Correction Appended
This is the first article in a series examining the effects of the University’s budget cuts on individual schools and colleges.

The College of Arts and Sciences offers its 4,200 students 1,800 undergraduate courses, but the University’s largest college will soon have to make cuts in accordance with the University’s policy to adjust its budget to a stagnant economy.
“Every department will be affected to some extent and there will be fewer classes,” said G. Peter LePage, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Budget cuts this year are being distributed uniformly across all administrative and academic units.”
The University’s administration has decreed that the budget for the Ithaca campus fall by 5 percent this year. Yesterday, Provost Kent Fuchs delivered a letter to each dean, officially declaring that every college, including Art and Sciences, would need to absorb a 5 percent cut to its operating budget.
In a modified budget that LePage will need to submit at the beginning of March, the College of Arts and Sciences will likely need to trim $6 million from its operating budget, according to Fuchs.
According to Prof. Kaushik Basu, economics department chair, however, the costs will loom larger than the number entails.
“Since a little over half the College’s expense is on tenured professor salaries and these are difficult to cut, this effectively means that the cut on the other expenditures has to be a little over 10 percent,” Basu stated in an e-mail. “It is affected pretty much like every other school.”
Joe Anderson ’12, a prospective government major, hopes that he will not regret paying the premium costs to come to Cornell.
“It costs a lot of money to go to school here,” Anderson said. “It’s possible I won’t be getting as much for my education.”
Anderson’s major concern with the budget cuts is that the college might not offer interesting classes, especially in his major.
“Part of what brought me to Cornell is they have a lot of classes you can’t take anywhere else,” Anderson said. “If they have to cut back on staff, it really limits the major.”
Although LePage hopes the cuts will not limit student options, certain personnel cuts are unavoidable.
“More than half of our budget is salaries, so we need to trim the size of academic and nonacademic staff,” said LePage. “We will, of course, also be tightening up other aspects of college operations.”
Despite the faculty cuts, LePage notes that “faculty retention is a high priority.”
“The extent to which we will be able to hire will depend critically upon the number of faculty who retire in the next few years,” LePage said. “People may not be so eager to retire right now, given the current financial uncertainties.”
Though LePage said he wishes that cuts will be as “invisible” to students as possible, many of the faculty have seen the affects already. Basu has found it difficult to expand the economics department in the midst of University cutbacks.
“Our ability to fill new lines has been severely curtailed,” Basu said. “We have had a net loss of faculty in recent times and the department was poised for a huge growth. This certainly got stalled, at least for now.”
Basu, however, still remains optimistic. As an economist, he predicts that the University just has to weather the current storm.
“As soon as the acute financial crisis lifts, Cornell should be able to bounce back,” said Basu. “The university’s fundamentals are extremely strong. And with some grit and intelligent planning we should be able to do very well after this period of hunkering down is over.”
Even Alka Menon ’10, a college scholar and biology major who is going abroad soon, sees the budget cuts as creating ambiguity in her career.
“[Budget cuts] always have long term repercussions, so I would worry that making cuts now could have effects down the line,” Menon said.
Despite the prospective problems that budget cuts could cause, Menon remains optimistic in the University’s ability to last the storm.
“I feel like to a certain extent Arts and Sciences is slightly more cushioned, but I don’t think a 5 percent cut will ruin it,” said Menon. “We’ll probably lose a lot of things we take for granted, like nice coffee at receptions.”

The title of this article incorrectly stated that budget cuts would be spread evenly across different departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. In fact, within the college, all departments will not incur equal budget cuts.