UNCP Faculty Corner

Budget Cuts ’09-10

As a result of the disruption of the general economy across the state and nation, budget cuts are having a a major effect on UNCP and are likely to have a big impact here during the coming 2009-2010 year.  We need to share ideas on how to cut costs in ways that will have minimal impact on meeting our core mission.

Please treat this discussion topic as an electronic suggestion box where we can contribute any creative cost-cutting suggestions while remembering to focus on on our core mission.  Post here your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and input for savings that could be designed, implemented and carried out by faculty. No idea is too small to bring up.

9 Comments »

  1. The DoIT budget has been mentioned a couple of tims here. I have a really great idea to save money – quit needlessly upgrading systems that do not need to be upgraded. At least query faculty as to whether they want the upgrade or not. First it was the new mail system. Wouldn’t some new hard drives in the webmail server have worked just as well? Then it was the mandatory upgrade to office 2007. Now is it going to be mandatory upgrades to windows 7. I’d like to know how much the university paid for these site licenses. I, for one, like my computer just the way it is – and I cannot be the only one that feels this way.

    Comment by Mark McClure — December 1, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  2. As I discussed with Fran in a private email, sometimes the difference between cutting and saving is a matter of semantics. But based on the budget information link Roger Killian emailed us after the Town Hall mtg, I wonder if the following areas might provide potential savings/cuts. Perhaps these areas have been cut already, but I have not seen anything about most of these areas mentioned in any communication I’ve received.

    1. Can’t we cut advertising? We spent $2,343,711 on it last year. As the Chancellor noted at the mtg, even if we do not grow we need to maintain our enrollment to avoid reversions, but almost 2.5 million dollars for advertising? When we spent “only” $1.4M on advertising in FY07? An increase of nearly 1 million dollars in advertising costs (+67%) over a two-year period seems extreme. Are we sure we are making the best use of our advertising dollars? Do we have a way to methodically evaluate the effectiveness of particular advertising campaigns? Surely we aren’t just pumping in more and more dollars blindly chasing higher and higher enrollment numbers.

    2. Why not cut/save the $54,787 we paid for cellular phone service last year? How would we explain this expense to Jane Q Taxpayer or John Q Legislator at a time we have cut classes and some of us have written letters to legislators asking for tax increases and/or tuition increases? It’s not that $55K is much money when the state budget shortfall is in the billions. But from a PR standpoint, an expense of this sort could appear indefensible. This amount must have paid for more than the service for cells carried by Bravetechs and Physical Plant teams and so it seems continuing to spend this amount could reinforce the “ivory tower” view the public has of universities.

    3. We paid $210,515 for “office furniture” while we paid $889 for library and/or classroom furniture. We also spent $0 on residential furniture. How could we spend so much on office furniture and so little on library/classroom and dorm furniture? Can’t we cut/save there? I believe when Sampson Hall was finished back in Spring 07, it cost about $3500 (without freight which is budgeted separately) to furnish each office so $210,515 would have paid to furnish about 60 average offices. Did we really gain 60 new offices this past year? Or are we “redecorating” existing offices more often than we need to? Those of you who have been here for awhile will remember that for years, getting any new office furniture for academic depts meant “shopping” the warehouse. (File cabinets, not matter how beat up, were especially coveted.)

    4. We spent less than $400 on it, but why did we budget $430,000 for in-state air travel last year? Was that really what we budgeted for all air travel even though it is listed on the budget sheet as in-state travel? Even so, leaving job candidate and staff travel aside, $430,000 was enough for every one of our 99 administrators and 310 instructional personnel to take a flight costing $1050. Can we use travel dollars more wisely without penalizing necessary travel, including faculty travel?

    Comment by Libby Denny — June 19, 2009 @ 7:22 am

  3. There’s was a clarification made at the Friday June 5 Academic Affairs Faculty called budget meeting that would help organize all the suggestions made so far on this dicussion thread:

    There is a difference between Cost SAVINGS decisions and actions and Budge Cost CUTTING decisions and actions.

    Cost SAVINGS help us to stay within budget. Cost CUTTINGS shape the budge we have to stay within. The current food fight is over COST CUTTINGS.

    Fran

    Comment by Fran Fuller — June 8, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  4. When trying to think about possible cuts, one problem is that like all state schools/agencies, UNCP has relied on lapsed salary funds to pay non-personnel expenses. While it has been perfectly OK to use funds that way, this means for years the university budget has overstated the amount of state money actually used for salaries. If, during this crisis, we don’t have lapsed salary funds because either we’ve already cut vacant positions or we aren’t awarded new enrollment growth faculty positions—-positions that typically sit empty for a full year while being funded by the state–many non-personnel expenditures will be cut, certainly, but there will not appear to be any additional “savings” as these non-personnel costs were never budgeted for anyway. The Chancellor has told us that nearly 75% of our state budget is earmarked for personnel. He has also told us that 65+% of this goes to Academic Affairs. Therefore, it would seem likely there has always been more cost-shifting in that division than in other divisions. To complicate the long-term picture, if the “Truth-in-Budgeting Reform” is adopted, this would appear to mean this previously legal cost-shifting would be abolished.

    The Chancellor also has reminded us that cutting some things would not save state dollars. In many cases, I certainly don’t know whether funding comes from state money, student fees, or grants. I understand that fees and grant monies can’t be used for just anything (like hiring faculty.) Rather than taking these expenses/initiatives off the table though, is it not possible to consider some reallocation? It seems student fee expenditures are not always as straightforward as one would think. For example, in 2006
    http://www.uncp.edu/doit/news/FSASC/2006/2006_0110.html
    DoIt reported a requested an increase in the E&T fee (E&T=Education and Technology?) levied on all students to address unfunded software costs that resulted from the Banner conversion. It was also reported that 10% of the E&T fee would be allocated to consumable supplies for the science labs. I’m not saying these aren’t reasonable expenditures, but I wouldn’t have guessed a student fee paid for these things.

    I think Robert S. is right, we should be thinking about the long-term picture but time is short so some of my ideas here are stop-gaps. Some of these ideas have been mentioned elsewhere and many may have been adopted already (since we’ve gotten few budget details so far it’s hard to know.) I also know many of these ideas are tiny “drop in the bucket” ideas but we need those too if we are to get a “full bucket” of cuts that spare our core mission as much as possible. Sorry if I step on toes with some of these suggestions.

    1. We need to think carefully about granting “course releases” to faculty, particularly when releases are for performing tasks that previously were considered either a required part of the job or “service.” We also need to look at the perceived need for so many personal services contracts. Perhaps we ought to examine the language in our Faculty Handbook to ensure that with our recent increased focus on scholarship, service and teaching aren’t given just lip service but are truly valued in all types of faculty evaluations.

    2. We should attempt to curb energy costs which might also delay equipment replacements. As I told Tony, Appalachian State targeted utility costs and by early spring this year, they saved over $275,000 relative to last year’s costs. Tony reported that he took this to an AA budget meeting but people there said upcoming energy rate hikes would wipe out much of AppState’s savings. Still, as Ronnie M. suggested, shouldn’t we try? Leaving classroom projectors running also burns out bulbs that cost hundreds of dollars. (Of course, we can’t let building interiors get too humid or we’ll have mold.) In response to the UNC Tomorrow statement, “UNC should embrace environmental sustainability as a core value among its institutions” UNCP said in our May 2008 report, “A concerted effort to improve on-campus water and electricity conservation and to raise the environmental awareness of students is underway.” I might not know about what has been done with the students, but I don’t recall any concerted campus-wide effort being made in this area. Did I just miss it?

    3. IT- In a system-wide PowerPoint presentation made for a March BOG policy discussion http://blogs.newsobserver.com/sites/drupalblogs.newsobserver.com/files/docs/Budget_Reductions.pdf
    UNCP’s slide said a 7% reduction would mean our “Core” IT equipment could not be replaced or upgraded. If that statement was true and it wasn’t just made for strategic reasons, I am not sure why we continue to engage in a debate about switching from Bb to Moodle as we have been told that switching would involve significant upfront costs that would not be recouped for 3-5 years. The continued discussion is especially puzzling given the lack of a clear consensus that Moodle provides a significant advantage over Blackboard. Would state dollars not be needed for a conversion?

    I remember when we got the 24/7 Bb help desk, a change that was needed as help had been available only 8-5, M-F. Is there the possibility of a compromise between the two help schedules? In other words, is it not possible to have weekend and early evening help without paying for 24/7 help? Also, as Mario pointed out in an email to the listserv in March, the faculty support available for online teaching appears disjointed and inefficient. Could we improve services and save dollars there?

    4. Supplemental Instruction (SI)—Students who enroll in a supplemental instruction course section and participate in the tutoring sessions reportedly earn higher course grades than students who do not. That sounds great but given that the actual weekly tutoring sessions are conducted not by faculty members but by “student leaders” (i.e., students who earned a good grade in the course during a previous semester) why are faculty members paid $1500 per course (or almost half of what we pay adjuncts per course to teach) for allowing their course to be designated as an SI section? This spring, it looks like we paid 17 faculty a total of $33,000 through these personal services contracts. (Presumably the student leaders were also paid for actually conducting the weekly study sessions as they should have been.) I have no idea where the money to fund SI comes from, but can costs be cut there, or if the program remains as effective as it was initially reported to be, can we at least cut the size of the stipend given to faculty members so that additional student leaders can be hired to cover more sections? The cost associated with directing/administering the program wouldn’t appear to change whether we have 22 SI sections a semester (as in SP09) or we have 42 sections. Also, it was my understanding the program was developed to improve retention from 1st to 2nd year by targeting GenEd courses that a significant proportion of our students often failed. The current webpage http://www.uncp.edu/cae/supplemental/ indicates the program “targets traditionally difficult academic subjects.” I am not sure how an academic subject is deemed traditionally difficult or even who makes this determination. But might we look at how these decisions are being made to ensure we are making the very best use of these dollars, wherever they come from?

    5. There have been several emails sent to the faculty listserv about the number of administrators we have at UNCP. Do we have a higher percentage of administrators relative to our number of employees than other UNC schools do or not? According to http://fred.northcarolina.edu/quickfacts/pdfOACAT.html
    (linked through GA) we do, but could we be classifying people differently here? If not, can we cut back? Or could those with advanced degrees be asked to teach (or teach more) as part of their administrative job? I know this report http://www.uncp.edu/chancellor/budget/comments_regarding_budget_reductions.doc
    said UNCP would look at cutting management positions.

    6. While we have prided ourselves on offering small and “personal” classes, it is a foregone conclusion that some class sizes will increase. Rather than simply letting class sizes increase in an uneven, largely random fashion across depts in the various colleges and schools, we need to examine course caps and course enrollments from a strategic standpoint as these vary greatly across depts. For example, in my dept (Psychology) in Fall 2008, a little under 8% (2 courses) of our 26 undergraduate courses enrolled 19 or fewer students while 0% of our Spring 09 undergraduate courses did. Yet, according to the Common Data Set materials on the Institutional Effectiveness (IE) webpage http://www.uncp.edu/ie/
    across UNCP, 43% of our 1,117 Fall 2008 undergraduate courses enrolled 19 or fewer students, down slightly from nearly 45% in Fall 2005. According to the instructions included with the Common Data Set, the following kinds of courses were excluded from these counts: distance ed, indiv. music lessons, indep. study, thesis, practicum, internship, and 1-on-1 courses. (Cross-listed courses were combined and counted only once and lab sections appeared also to be excluded as those were counted in a different data set.) Sometimes small classes may be essential given the course topic/type (e.g., it wouldn’t make sense to cap remedial math courses at 40 students and a seminar course with 40 students enrolled is no longer a “seminar”) and sometimes course caps relate to the size of the classroom, but in other cases, long-standing habits/traditions, territorial issues, and so forth may have determined courses sizes more than pedagogical issues. Thus, it seems that we need to look at the justification for capping courses low and look at the frequency with which we offer courses that typically enroll few students. (According to “Quick Facts” on the IE page, the average class size at UNCP actually decreased from 23 students in Fall 08 to 20 students in Spring 09 which is somewhat surprising in the face of budget belt-tightening.) A “one size fits all” rule such as “no courses below X students” during the regular year won’t serve us or our students well, but we do need to look at this. I also understand that there are pressures to graduate teachers, nurses, etc as quickly as possible.

    7. The UNC Policy manual (Section 400.1.5 on improving graduation rates) requires that we “review policies and practices governing course withdrawal, course repeat, progression, suspension, and reinstatement policies to ensure that such polices are not encouraging and facilitating behaviors that lengthen time to graduation.” Have we done that recently? I know I have advisees who habitually enroll in more courses than they intend to finish. (I do advise them against this.) While this practice may not always delay graduation for the student who drops, a student who remains in a course until only midterm may have kept another student from completing a course she needed that semester, particularly as more and more courses will have waiting lists.

    8. Should we cap admissions or raise our admission standards to ensure more of the students we do admit successfully graduate? I am all for access to higher ed but a weak student who flunks out and leaves without a degree but with a pile of new debt has not necessarily been well-served by his UNCP experience. In addition, if we admit more students than we can serve adequately, this would seem unfair to the students. I know in the past we benefited from enrollment growth money so it was in our own interest to maximize enrollment but if newspaper accounts can be believed, there may not be much of that kind of money for a long while.

    9. Can we consider scaling-back our China initiatives?

    10. Can administrative travel costs be minimized not just here but throughout the UNC system? Frankly, if we are confident our online students can learn perfectly well without ever setting foot in a classroom, can’t more meetings be held that way?

    11. While we all want to continue to have an attractive campus, there are changes we could make. For example, in the long-run, we could benefit by minimizing the use of more expensive “annual” plantings and work towards using more perennial and native plantings. We could also consider planting more trees that eventually will provide shade to minimize AC use in the boiling NC summers. Can we minimize grass surfaces that require watering, fertilizing, and mowing? Look at SCC’s campus (where they have a horticulture program.) Many parts of that campus don’t seem to have the golf-course amounts of grass everywhere that we now have at UNCP. We also need to stop running sprinklers during the rain. Even if the water we are wasting is untreated well water, it is still water and it likely took an electrical pump to get it out of the well.

    12. We should place a moratorium on “entertainment” library purchases such as popular magazines, videos etc. While members of the community are welcome to use our library, it is not intended to serve as a “public library.” And while these purchases may provide pleasure for our students, they are better served by getting the courses they need to graduate than they are by being able to read the latest issue of Car and Driver or Better Homes and Gardens.

    13. This past year, the administration proposed doing away with the free local service landlines provided in each dorm room since most students appear to have cell phones. Although I was not on the senate committee that gave this proposal a “thumbs down,” I did share the sentiment of a committee member who told me she was concerned about student safety if there wasn’t an easily accessible working telephone in the room. Committee members were also concerned about penalizing students who could not afford cell phones. I have since learned though that many universities have done away with free room phones in dorms. In addition, while I should have realized this, until recently I did not know that students have to provide their own telephones. If many do not bring landline phones to campus because they have cell phones, an active landline jack in the room doesn’t provide a safety net anyway. Should we revisit this proposal? I don’t know whether it would even be technologically possible, much less cheaper, but could we provide in all dorm rooms, both a phone and the ability to connect to the campus police while charging a fee to those students who do want a fully functioning local landline? I realize that doesn’t help the rare student who doesn’t have a cell phone but sometimes hard choices have to be made that will benefit the most students. Could we install the old-fashioned “hall phones” in the dorms?

    Comment by Libby Denny — June 4, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  5. I agree with Ronnie Martin. Why do we waste so much electricity? Turn off your computers, unplug your printers, turn off the lights and so on. Energy is expensive and if we cut that cost, maybe we won’t have to worry about getting cut ourselves.

    Comment by Terence Dollard — June 1, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  6. This may sound rather simplistic but I have entered many empty classrooms and passed classrooms when leaving a class where I have found all the lights left on in the empty classroom as well as projectors still on. I was always taught to turn off a light when leaving a room and take special pains to make certain all projectors are turned off when leaving a classroom. This may sound rather insignificant but it really adds to the university’s cost. The university I left prior to coming to UNCP required all faculty make certain all such lights were turned off.
    Ronnie Martin

    Comment by Ronnie Martin — May 28, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  7. I have questions and a comment to share. Three general but essential questions occur to me. In order for us to have any confidence in budget decisions, we must have an affirmative answer to all three in my opinion. We must also have transparency and a documentation of the truthfulness of those affirmative answers. With all due respect, the proof is more imprtant than the affirmation at this time.

    Questions:

    1. Are we utilizing ALL resources at our disposal to respond to these highly unusual economic and budget challenges?

    2. Are we thinking programmatically as we cut budgets and doing everything in our power to maintain the momentum that we have achieved in key university, college, and departmental initiatives?

    3. Are we planning for any new initiatives that have the potential to generate new revenue streams for the university?

    Comment:
    Crisis forces us to make tough decisions for which we are often unprepared. The crisis may even make some of our past decisions appear to be extravagant or unwise as these previous decisions appear now to have weakened our hand or to have reduced our present options. The present choices are thus made more painful and none of the options leads to a desirable outcome. I call these “tragic choices” meaning that any choice we make will produce an undesirable outcome. But a crisis may also be an agent for change. It may provide the impetus to sharpen our focus, redefine our vision, reenergize our strategic planning, and enhance the institution. Let’s not just develop a budget cutting formula with a focus on “surviving” the storm. Let’s use the crisis to strengthen the strategic planning and sharpen the focus of the institution. If we do that, UNCP will not only survive the present crisis but it will face fewer tragic choices when the next crisis comes.

    Comment by Robert Schneider — May 28, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

  8. And now, to keep me from having to remember how to get back to this blog, I’m checking the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” box below the submit comment button. Fran

    Comment by Fran Fuller — May 28, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  9. Suggestion for reduction of faculty generated University expenses: We’ve pretty much enjoyed unlimited and honor-system monitored long distance calling from office phones. If we honor-system quit making long distance phone calls for more than a minute or two in length to get a party to switch to email, we’d likely save money. Or we could ask the party to call us back on their dime. Fran

    Comment by Fran Fuller — May 28, 2009 @ 1:36 pm


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