On Tuesday, June 12, more than 300 nervous faculty and staff members of The University of New Orleans crowded into room 165 of Milneburg Hall expecting to learn how recent legislative budget cuts will affect them and the university. University president, Dr. Peter Fos, and provost, Dr. Louis Paradise, broke the harsh news: UNO will lose $8.9 million dollars in state funding in fiscal 2012-2013.
Fos explained that $8.9 million dollars, roughly 7.4% of its funding, is more than the university can simply absorb. He compared it to the $1.1 million dollar cut that was handed down since Fos took office just six months ago.
“We found ways to cover that,” he explains, “by freezing spending and taking other measures, but we can’t just find $8.9 million. If we could find that kind of money lying around, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Will the university declare exigent status as Southern University has done?
“To be honest,” says Fos, “at this point, no.”
However, the university has no choice but to make some difficult decisions about cutting its budget.
“I have no idea where we’re going to make those cuts,” Fos admits. Yet, he emphatically insists, “We will not do across the board cuts. Across the board cuts are tantamount to the slow death of an institution.”
Paradise discussed committees that have been formed to consider “strategic cuts” as well as ways the university can generate additional revenue. He encouraged everyone in attendance to email their ideas to him, stating that all ideas will be given equal and anonymous consideration. Good ones will be utilized.
“These cuts are the biggest UNO has ever faced,” Paradise laments. “And we’re being told there’s probably going to be a mid-year cut next year.”
Fos described part of his rationale for deciding how and where cuts would or would not be made.
Student fees and tuition are self-generated revenues the university receives in addition to state funding.
Therefore, efforts at recruiting and retention will not be cut, a mistake he says his predecessors have made in the past. Likewise, athletic programs create much needed publicity for UNO and are not likely to be cut. When asked about potential cuts to library funding, Fos was less reassuring.
“Pretty much everything is on the table,” he replies.
That may even include jobs.
Fos encouraged those who were at or near retirement age to consider retiring in order to facilitate either workforce reduction through attrition or the hiring of replacements at lower salaries. And while he also admitted that there may be a need to eliminate some part-time or adjunct instructors, he assured everyone that layoffs would be “considered last, even for adjuncts.”
Fos and Paradise did offer some hope to those in attendance by outlining a few measures being considered to help generate additional revenue and mitigate budgeting woes.
For instance, Delgado will use five classrooms on UNO’s main campus next semester to teach 200 to 300 students. Though Delgado will not be charged for using the rooms, Fos and Paradise are both optimistic that having the additional students on campus will generate increased revenue in the form of meal and souvenir purchases. They also see this as a way to attract transfer students from among Delgado’s two-year program graduates.
Fos has also charged the staff of UNO Foundation, the university’s philanthropic arm, with dramatically increasing the amount of donations it obtains.
“And, if all goes well,” says Fos, “next year we’ll have a facility on the north shore between Covington and Mandeville.”
Fos insists budget cuts will not negatively impact the quality of education UNO students receive.
“They may knock us down, but we’ll get back up and keep going,” he says. He credits faculty and staff for the continued high standards the university achieves despite year after year of budget cuts.
And while employees appreciate his praise, some wonder when the “tipping point” will come. When will the cuts be more than even their dedication can overcome? Some, like Professor Peter Schock, English Department Chair, question whether the time has come to “communicate our anger.”
Schock describes the outcry against the hits higher education has taken in Louisiana as “eerily silent.”
“I don’t know if we’re playing a game of chicken with the legislature,” says Fos. “I don’t know where the tipping point is. I think we’ll know it when we get there.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Randy Moffett, University of Louisiana System President, in a press release issued on Monday, June 11, urged the Board of Regents to suspend the current funding formula for higher education that is partially responsible for recent cuts. While that request is being considered, the future of state-run colleges and universities in Louisiana hangs in the balance.
Fos and Paradise, though hopeful of a reprieve, are not counting on it. Select committees continue to search for ways to make “strategic cuts” as anxious educators await news of their fates.