February 7, 2010

Day Hall Releases New Budget Task Force Report

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A proposal to dramatically change the flow of money between and through university’s seven different colleges sparked a heated debate last Friday, as faculty and administrators argued over the latest phase in the broader Reimagining Cornell initiative.

In a report issued in December, the Budget Model Task Force recommends pooling all undergraduate tuition through the Provost’s office before Provost Kent Fuchs redistributes these funds back to each college.

According to its Executive Summary, the task force suggests establishing a “data-informed” metric “based on transparency” to determine how much money should be allocated to each college.

The provost already accumulates the undergraduate tuition into a larger fund from the colleges of Engineering, Arts and Sciences and Architecture, Art and Planning before redistributing their incomes to the individual schools. Right now, the Hotel School, the College of Human Ecology, CALS and the school of Industrial and Labor Relations all keep their own revenue, and the central administration takes a certain amount off the top each year.

The proposal would bring these other four schools under the current system, whereby tuition funds would be taken and then re-allocated to each college.

The task force also advocates for the creation of a single budget for the entire Ithaca campus; Cornell currently has four separate models (the two discussed above plus one for the Hotel, Law and Johnson schools and yet another for “enterprise and cost-recovery units.”)

Co-chair of the task force report Paul Streeter argued that these recommendations would decrease waste across the University and make the institution stronger as a whole.

He stressed that the reforms would rectify the current confusions involved with using four budgets and make it much easier for the University to evaluate and cut waste.

In the spring, Streeter said, Provost Fuchs would decide how much of the proposal ––if any –– to accept. Friday’s meeting simply kick-started what is expected to be a months-long student, Daily Sun, faculty and administration-wide evaluation of the budget proposals.

The discussion began with a bang. As soon as Fuchs, Streeter and Cathy Dove, the co-chair of the task force report, opened the floor to questions, Prof.Robert Smith, labor economics and associate dean of academic affairs, shot up.

He said that the proposal would create a “Soviet central planning agency…with homogenization across the University” in a “zero-sum game.”

Smith’s fear is that the proposal would turn over too much power to the Provost, giving him unprecedented control over how much money each college receives in return from the Provost’s office.

In a later interview, Smith expressed concern about how the proposal would change the incentives of some of the colleges. “If [we] have to adapt to a formula that’s imposed on us, I’m worried that it will change [our] behavior,” Smith said.

Some of the meeting’s attendees snickered audibly at the Soviet remark, but it quickly became clear that Smith was by no means alone in his reservations about the task force’s suggestions.

He was soon supported by fellow ILR faculty-member Prof. John Bishop, human resources. He said that his “great worry” is that the proposal will “greatly increase power at the center,” adding that Cornell’s diverse, “decentralized” colleges are “what has made the institution great.”

But Streeter strongly objected to the very notion that the proposal somehow represented a centralization of power. “For many, this will actually be a decentralization,” Streeter said, as the proposed metric would actually greatly benefit the affected schools.

“From our perspective in the Vet school, this is a huge decentralization,” chimed in Vet School Dean Michael Kotlikoff, a member of the budget task force, in support of Streeter.

Administrators estimate that the debate will be ongoing until April.

Original Author: Jeff Stein