February 18, 2009

CALS Will Cut $4M More To Reach 5-Percent Goal

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

The $2.8 million cut in state funding for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences announced in the fall was unwelcome but not altogether unfamiliar. Throughout the college’s history, CALS has faced three periods of significant reductions resulting from state cuts, according to CALS Senior Associate Dean Jan Nyrop. However, in order to account for the University-mandated 5 percent cut — in accordance with the Ithaca campus reduction of the same amount — the college will have to cut an additional $4 million, amounting to a significant decrease unparalleled in CALS history.
“In some ways we were prepared to think about and plan for budget cuts because we have had to do it before. This time, though, the rapidity and magnitude of the response needed is unprecedented in CALS history,” said Barbara Knuth, CALS senior associate dean. “We usually have had more time. Going forward we also have decreased revenue from decreased payout from investment and we are being required to return reserve accounts to the University … all of that limits degrees of freedom.”
The cuts are particularly difficult to make because only 30 percent of the total CALS budget — which includes funds for individual courses and department operating costs — is available to cut from. The other 70 percent is fixed and split between professorial salaries and centrally-provided services such as financial aid given to the college by the University. As a result, graduate assistantships across the college will likely decrease as will guest lectures and special programs. Furthermore, Knuth said it was “not unlikely” that courses will be cancelled and professors may be asked to take on more classes.
CALS administrators have requested that each department submit a 5-percent budget cut proposal — currently being evaluated — so that the college can submit its budget cut plan to the University on March 2. Administrators hope to determine which departments can absorb more of the cut and which cannot without hurting the integrity of the programs. In addition, the CALS central administration has incurred part of the cut.
“Departments whose budgets are mostly devoted to professorial salaries more than those departments that have fewer flexible operational dollars are going have a harder time meeting the budget cuts,” explained Knuth, who is also a professor in natural resources. In some cases smaller departments in some cases ones that have really given up a lot already in past budget cuts.”
Occupying 35 percent of the college’s budget, professorial salaries are a significant expense. CALS is preparing to cut the number of professors by about 40 to 45 over the next few years in an effort to reach a sustainable budget model. But because tenured professors cannot be fired, the college must wait for them to retire.
Since 1982 the number of CALS professorial faculty has decreased from 440 to the current number of 370. In the same period, however, the number of students has remained more or less steady at about 3,200, according to Knuth.
There are exceptions to the unofficial faculty hiring freeze, however, and faculty may be hired in positions deemed necessary. In the Department of Development Sociology, for example, there is search currently being conducted for an endowed professorship.
“If we are unable to maintain the faculty at the size we are were going to have to rethink our programming,” explained Development Sociology Chair Max Pfeffer, noting that areas of possible change include the kinds of courses and the types of specializations offered by the department.
As CALS evaluates ways to increase revenue, one area it is focusing on is enrollment.
[img_assist|nid=35243|title=CALS Budget|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“There are classes right now where we believe room exists to accommodate more students without affecting the undergraduate experience,” Knuth said. She added that CALS is looking to increase the number of transfer students admitted to increase revenue.
According to Nyrop, who is also a professor in entomology, CALS is also considering restructuring some of its masters programs that are not widely subscribed to in an effort to get additional students.
The college currently boasts 26 departments, 1,052 courses and 1,000 graduate students. When asked whether any of the departments would be combined to cut costs, Knuth responded that CALS is “open to suggestions for combining [departments] and nothing off the table, but there no plans to do so right now.”
Departments with faculty members retiring, such as the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, are finding it easier to make the 5-percent reduction.
“It is, in general, very difficult for departments to make these cuts, but we happened to have two faculty members facing retirement, so our cuts were basically predefined for us by mandated cuts and the two faculty facing retirement,” said Chair of the Crop and Soil Department Harold van Es.
Chair of the Applied Economics and Management Department Loren Tauer said that he is mainly looking to reduce teaching expenses to help cope with the department’s 5-percent cut, which amounts to over half a million dollars. The department will hire fewer paid undergraduate teaching assistants and hopes that more students will apply as TAs for credit. The department will also have to cut four of its 23 graduate assistantship positions.
These cuts are significant and if continued may force faculty and programs to face significant readjustment.
“To have faculty that are productive we need support services … If we don’t have the teaching assistants then the faculty may have to curtail small sections or stop having sections altogether,” Tauer said. “It might get down to the point where you go in and give your lecture and exams … That’s not the quality of education we want to provide to Cornell students.”
According to Tauer, CALS faculty members may begin to rely more on government grants. He mentioned that the government still has research grants and contracts available, though he cautioned that they are very competitive and may become more so as researchers and faculty members across the country respond to the recession.
The University is currently determining what cuts in the next fiscal year will be. In order to make sure that budget reductions within the college are as effective as possible and that the quality of its programs remain, CALS will begin planning for further cuts now. An advisory group of CALS faculty members has been formed to work in conjunction with a budget advisory committee.
All acknowledged that the next round of cuts will most likely be more difficult on the college.
“We were quite prepared and were able to cut, and we are less prepared for the next round of cuts that come next year. They will probably be more fundamental and threatening to the integrity of our program,” Pfeffer said. “We know that its very serious and we may be facing changes that strike at the very heart of how we operate and provide our programming.”