March 14, 2011

Amid Proposed Cuts, Professors Consider Future of CALS

Print More

Faculty members clashed with administrators from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at a public forum on Monday, voicing their concerns on the repercussions of pending fiscal year 2012 budget cuts.

With more than 100 professors, staff and students in attendance at Kennedy Hall’s Call Auditorium, Dean of CALS Kathryn Boor ’80 discussed the consequences posed by the college’s aging infrastructure and faculty, as well as an expected 10-percent reduction in state aid.

As a result of the proposed cuts in state funding, CALS administrators said the college would reduce its current 370-member faculty by nine percent. Boor said that the reductions would come from retirement and attrition, rather than layoffs.

“Looking at the present budget model, [CALS] would have to shrink by about 30 faculty members,” Boor said.

According to Boor, CALS will need to restructure its entire budget structure to counter the sharp decline in funding. She outlined the broad sketches of “One Cornell,” a proposal from the University that would consolidate the financial revenues and budgets of the previously-independent undergraduate and graduate colleges.

Under the new funding model, “any hit to one particular unit has the opportunity to be ameliorated by the entire University,” Boor said. In previous operating budgets, the undergraduate colleges at Cornell maintained separate funding streams, so cuts in statutory aid only affected contract colleges. With the adoption of “One Cornell,” all colleges may feel the brunt of state funding reductions, regardless of their endowed or contract status, according to Boor.

With 3,500 undergraduate students and approximately $120 million in research expenditures, CALS is the contract college threatened by the largest reductions in state funding.

The median age of a CALS faculty member is 58, and Boor said that, in spite of the drop in available funding, CALS will “aggressively work to hire the best and brightest faculty.”

Many faculty members in the audience challenged Boor’s responses and proposed alternative methods to close the gaping budget hole.

Prof. Peter Davies, plant biology, questioned whether CALS could increase enrollment and reconsider financial aid as a means of balancing the budget.

“Has there been any discussion on revising the policy on 100-percent financial aid?” for need-blind admission Davies said. “Maybe this is the point to look at possibly, admitting more students that can pay their full way.”

CALS will reconsider enlarging its total enrollment size, according to Boor. She explained that Provost Kent Fuchs “will charge a committee to do a financial evaluation that will include … the number of students admitted to CALS.”

But Boor insisted need-blind admission will remain a “critical priority” for the agriculture college.

“Our present financial aid policy ensures that we do not accidentally change the socioeconomic profile of our students,” Boor said.

Other professors raised concerns about aging laboratories and infrastructure. According to Boor, CALS operates more than 603 separate facilities, many constructed in the post-war era, when New York State was flush with funds.

“Some of us will lose our offices next year,” said Prof. Randall Barker, applied economics and management, referring to relocations during planned renovations in Stockton, Warren and Rice Halls.

“We don’t know where we will be considering that we’re in such hard times,” he said.

Boor said that the college lacked funds for some infrastructure projects, but that the administration was committed to investing in future projects.

“Certain buildings can reach the point where even several million dollars can’t fix the problem,” Boor said. “You reach the point of diminishing returns on the ability to patch the bubble gum and duct tape.”

Some faculty members requested specific information from the CALS administration.

“Can you review how you’re going to deal with the [state] cut?” Prof. Lisa Earle, plant breeding, asked Boor.

Boor said that the agriculture college can address many of the reductions with “fiscal reserves,” but that the budgetary outlook remains bleak.

“We have yet to see what our budget will look like next year,” Boor said. She added that in the meantime, CALS has left vacant various professorship positions.

Although CALS is reducing transactional and informational technology activities, administrators have not yet calculated savings. Associate Dean Jan Nyrop said that the “budget is at the forefront” of the entire Reimagining Cornell process.

“If the revenue goes down, something has to give,” Nyrop said.

Throughout the forum, Boor said that the administration planned to lobby to forestall some projected state cuts.

“What we have been doing — we’ve been pulling out the stops in Albany and working with our legislators,” Boor said. “We’re trying to get the line items, the specific programs … to get some restoration there.”

Original Author: Max Schindler