February 6, 2013

Students Question Cornell’s Timing of Budget Forums

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Cornell is preparing to implement its new budget model, which will radically change how the University distributes its money. Some students, however, question how transparent the University has been throughout the process — especially after the university held  its budget model panels, which described what would change for different departments, during the fall exam period and over winter break.

The new budget model is the result of a three-and-a-half-year discussion among University officials. According to administrators, the new budget model will consolidate the four separate models that Cornell currently uses and pool all revenue and expenses, which will be redistributed to colleges proportionately, depending on factors like a college’s number of students, faculty, staff and facilities. Colleges will also pay two taxes to support central academic and administrative costs.

For some students — particularly those who have unanswered questions about the new changes — the scheduling of these discussions has caused them to question the intentions behind the budget model.

“It’s kind of suspicious that they would make it at a time that no students could come. I trust the administration, but I don’t understand why they couldn’t make the forums more accessible to students,” Katie Loshak ’16 said. “It gives the impression that they may be trying to hide something.”

But according to John Adams, assistant vice president for planning and budget, the preparations for the budget took place at the “upper level” of the University, since the changes are not intended to have a major impact on Cornell’s departments, classes or student life.

“Students won’t see a difference at all,” Adams said. “In fact, there are many departments within some colleges that will not see anything different. What we are doing here at the center, and what the Provost is doing is making decisions at the dean level.”

According to Adams, about 100 people attended each of the public discussions regarding the new budget model. The audience was comprised of University budget officers, college officers, faculty and graduate students.

Elmira Mangum, vice president for planning and budget, said there was an opportunity for  those who were not present to ask questions over the phone.

“We wanted people to feel comfortable asking as detailed a question as they wanted and [for] us to be able to respond to them,” Mangum said.

Daniel Kuhr ’13, College of Human Ecology representative for the S.A. and chair of the financial aid review committee, said that although he understands the new budget model is not meant to affect costs at the student level, he would have liked to attend the public forums.

“We as students are also shareholders in the University, and there should be a concerted effort on behalf of the administration to incorporate students into changes like this, even if it just means making meetings wait until the time is more convenient for students,” Kuhr said.

According to Mangum, however, there have been many opportunities over the past few years for individuals to ask questions about the new budget. She added that the dates for the most recent forums were not intentionally chosen to prevent anyone from attending.

“Our schedule was designed around when we have to prepare the budget for approval for the University Trustees,” Mangum said. “[The timing] was not on purpose. We were trying to get things scheduled as soon as possible. For us, that was the deadline that we had to have [the forums] by so people could prepare budgets for the next fiscal year.”

However, Adams said that the majority of the forums reviewed aspects of the model that were specific to changes in the budget.

“[These discussions] went down into the details of the principles and for most faculty and students, they would not have understood what was being discussed,” Adams said.

According to Adams, there will be future opportunities for people to post questions and comments to Provost Kent Fuchs about the budget model.

“If [anyone] has complaints or sees something that we’ve done totally wrong, then we’ll be able to make adjustments before we start building the budget,” Adams said.

Original Author: Alexa Davis