February 26, 2009

Early Preparation Enables ILR to Better Face Budget Cuts

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

As some of Cornell’s seven colleges scramble to meet Provost Kent Fuchs’ call for a five percent University-wide budget cut, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations has taken it in stride. With the need to cut $1.7 million from ILR’s $34 million unrestricted budget, Dean Harry Katz has pledged that the cuts would not directly affect students, classes, professors or other faculty members on campus.
As a state-subsidized school, ILR was notified earlier that it would need to reduce their budget by $500,000 as part of the mid-year budget cut that was imposed on Cornell’s four statutory colleges. This gave the school a head start over other colleges that did not learn that cuts would be needed until February, according to Katz.
“We were told as of September that last April’s state appropriations would be cut,” Katz explained. “So we’re ahead of all the other colleges in that we made budget cuts in October.”
ILR will make most of its reductions within its extension division, which is responsible for conducting workshops, seminars and courses for alumni and professionals interested in the school’s fields. The cuts will include some lay-offs effective in June.
“[Our cuts] included 17 employees in the ILR extension division…” Katz stated, “They were a mix of professionals and support staff, not faculty.”
In addition to off-campus cuts, the school also plans to create major savings on-campus.
“We’ve left open some staff positions that have been vacated through attrition. Some of those are in the library, some are in administrative support …” Katz noted. “In some cases, we’ll hire lecturers instead of tenured track faculty, which is less expensive.”
Yet some students wonder whether hiring temporary lecturers rather than tenured- track faculty will impact the culture of the school.
“I feel like ILR has a very distinct culture and that comes from the relationships that students have built between professors that make themselves accessible to students year after year,” Rob Morrissey ’12 explained. “I am not sure if that could be achieved to the same degree with lecturers.”
Morrissey did, however, acknowledge that lecturers might bring a unique perspective to the school.
“I think that lecturers can add new knowledge and expertise to the school that would otherwise not be provided. I look forward to learning from people with diverse backgrounds and experiences,” Morrissey said.
ILR will also look to make budget reductions in more unconventional ways. The school believes that many small cuts in administrative costs can add up to one large savings.
“We’ve cut expenses in our travel budgets and instead of sending out mass mailings, [we’ll send] communications over the Internet,” Katz said. “We haven’t replaced faculty computers as often as we normally do and we shifted [some of our budget for library book acquisitions] into savings.”
Department heads in ILR’s six different subdivisions will be held responsible to ensure that the cuts are met in their respective departments. Ileen DeVault, chair of the Department of Collective Bargaining, Labor Law and Labor History, confirmed that each of ILR’s departments has completed its budget cuts. But she also emphasized that specific decisions were still in the hands of the dean. George Boyer, chair of the Labor Economics Department, agreed that it was still unclear exactly how the cuts would impact each department.
Lee Dyer, chairperson of the Department of Human Resource Studies, reiterated that although the school would focus on reducing excess administrative payments, none of the cuts would impact classes.
“Our [department’s] part is to reduce administrative expenditures such as supplies, copying, and the like,” Dyer stated in an e-mail. “Dean Katz is committed to working through this challenge in a way that minimizes its effects on the core mission of the School. Consequently, teaching assignments, classes and staffing — and more specifically the quantity and quality of our course offerings — have been and (absent some cataclysmic turn of events) will continue to be unaffected.”
Yet in spite of the school’s efforts to limit the impact on the types of courses offered, there will be some changes. In an attempt to reduce expenditures, ILR cancelled two of its three faculty hiring searches for this year. In addition, although the number of students has dramatically increased in the last 10 years, the number of faculty has remained constant at 50. While this has aided the school’s ability to run a balanced budget, it has also increased certain class sizes.
“We are concerned in the sense that we’re looking for ways to ensure that students don’t face dramatic increases in class size,” Katz explained. “Some of that we’ve accomplished with more lecturers, some of that we’ve gotten rid of classes that have less than five students.”
Yet most students seem happy with the school’s class sizes, especially those offered to upperclassmen.
“I definitely feel closer to my professors in the smaller classes I’ve taken junior and senior year as you get many more opportunities for communication both in and out of class,” Tigran Jamharian ’09 wrote in an e-mail.
Ultimately, the school’s ability to maintain a balanced budget can be attributed to the number of individual contributions it has received in various campaigns this year. Katz acknowledges that this may be due to the school’s uniqueness.
“ILR is so distinctive and such a dominant player in the field that I think we’ll be in good shape,” Katz said.