February 11, 2009

College-by-college look at the financial recession

Print More

The College of Arts and Sciences is the University’s largest. With 4,200 students and 1,800 undergraduate courses, the college’s breadth and depth is staggering. However, the economy is blind even to the University’s needs, and the college will soon have to make budget cuts like the rest of the University.
“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 budget had to fall 5% this year, which entails the college’s budget falling 5% as well.
“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%,” said Prof. Kaushik Basu, economics department chair, in an e-mail statement. “It is affected pretty much like every other school.”
Students remain wary of the financial situation, though optimistic.
“It costs a lot of money to go to school here,” said Joe Anderson ’12, a prospective government major. “It’s possible I won’t be getting as much for my education.”
Anderson also expressed concern that some of the more interesting classes in the University would be dropped.
“Part of what brought me to Cornell is they have a lot of classes you can’t take anywhere else,” said Anderson. “If they have to cut back on staff, it really limits the major.”
Although LePage hopes to 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,” said LePage. “People may not be so eager to retire right now, given the current financial uncertainties.”
Though the LePage said he wishes the cuts to be as “invisible” to students as possible, many of the faculty have seen the affects already.
“Our ability to fill new lines has been severely curtailed,” said Basu, economics department chair. “We have had a net loss of faculty in recent times and the department was poised for a huge growth. This has certainly got stalled, at least for now.”
However, Basu still remains optimistic. As an economics expert, he predicts 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 for students who will be leaving the hill soon, there are ambiguities about the direction their education careers are taking due to the budget cuts.
“[Budget cuts] always have long term repercussions, so I would worry that making cuts now could have affects down the line,” said Alka Menon ’10, a college scholar and biology major. Despite the prospective problems money issues could cause, Menon believes the University should be able 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% cut will ruin it,” said Menon. “We’ll probably lose a lot of things we take for granted, like nice coffee at receptions.”