The top dogs at the University of Arizona issued an all-employee memo Monday regarding the upcoming year’s budget. While the memo is short on specific details – there are no actual numbers in the lengthy missive – UA President Robert Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay – nonetheless appear to be preparing UA colleges for major cuts. I’ve sent an email to UA’s media office asking for some specifics, and when and if I hear back from them, I’ll pass the info along. But for those of you with kids at the U. or attending yourself, here’s the memo with my translation/comments inserted in bold. Yes, these are a bit on the skeptical/cynical side, but it is based on covering the Transformation Plan from its outset last year, from continually hearing from units that claim they are getting clobbered in the Hay-led transformation, and from my going-on eight years experience with UA as the parent of multiple undergrads.
——As we begin the academic year, the final state budget is still unknown (it is apparent that the legislature will need to reconvene later in the fall to address what remains a significant revenue shortfall), but we wanted to share with you the latest information on where we are with both the budget and our Transformation Plan.
As you know, the University was cut by $77 million in last year’s state budget allocation. As we began planning for the current fiscal year, we asked each dean to make plans for a reduction of 7 percent, but with the understanding that there would not be across the board reductions. Rather, we have said from the beginning that the University would make differential allocations that were guided by its strategic planning priorities and the collegial input that is vital in a shared-governance environment. (Differential allocations is education-speak for “We’re going to give some departments more than others.” The “collegial input” and “shared-governance” is up for debate among colleges who feel they are getting the short end of the budget stick.)
The easy path in a difficult time like this is to make across-the-board reductions. But that is also the quickest route to mediocrity. Our commitment has always been to emerge from this process in a manner that strengthens the University’s teaching, research and outreach capabilities, while positioning us to improve the state’s economy, create jobs and attract additional revenue.
In developing this year’s budget we have considered input from SPBAC, the Faculty Senate, the Provost’s Advisory Council, the Transformation Plan white papers, and meetings with many groups across campus. (“Considered” is the operative word here. Units that are being dismantled from inside due to the proposed differential allocation of funds recognize that Shelton and Hay hold the purse strings and consider only those proposals that fit with their plan to make UA a top-10 Research One university. UA currently sits around No. 13 in research funding status among public universities.)
An important consideration in this process is our expectation of state support. Since 1990, the portion of the state budget going to higher education has declined from 16 percent to 10 percent. At the same time we have seen the total state budget, as a result of both tax cuts and the extraordinary downturn in the economy, shrink dramatically. So not only has higher education’s portion of the pie been reduced, but the pie itself (the state budget) has grown smaller in recent years. We do not believe that there is any realistic expectation of this situation improving any time soon, which means we must place greater emphasis on the capacity of colleges to generate private support as well as increasing tuition revenues. (Translation: Each college needs to focus on fundraising – some say to the detriment of teaching – and students will have yet another huge tuition jump.)
The international reputation of The University of Arizona is derived in great part by the breadth and depth of its many academic programs. As an academic community, we value all the components that contribute to the stimulating intellectual environment that makes this campus so unique. But in dire times we must make the difficult choices associated with differential investments. (Translation: If you are not bringing in outside research monies, you’re on the chopping block. Sciences in; liberal arts, out.)
In considering how to allocate funding this year, we were mindful of each unit’s capacity to have a positive economic impact on the state (with an emphasis on job creation and growth) in those areas identified as priorities through our strategic planning process, primarily in alternative energy and bio-medicine. (Translation: We looked at where the jobs are and which colleges might produce jobs for Arizona. We’ve decided our priorities are these two and will be less concerned with others.)
We also gave consideration to each unit’s capacity to generate outside revenue (from both research and philanthropy), while also weighing the potential savings that had not yet been fully realized through operational streamlining. (Again: If you don’t pay your own way, adios. Plus: Look for more layoffs.)
It is also important to note the value that has been placed on undergraduate education and the teaching function. This year the Tuition Funds Task Force recommended, and we have put in place, a budgeting redesign that increases the flow of tuition funds to those units that do the most teaching. We are also using federal stimulus funding to support the educational mission through the allocation of temporary teaching dollars, and will be taking additional steps to mitigate the impact on teaching in those units that are most seriously affected by the differential allocations. (Good news: If you’re in the largest college at UA – the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences – and you’re a professor teaching a hugely popular class, tuition dollars from those students should flow directly to your unit/college. Also, federal stimulus dollars will help people keep jobs for at least one more year if their college sucks at fundraising. Caveat: No guarantee how long any of this will last.)
This is a time of extraordinary change at our University. We appreciate that change of this magnitude is going to create unease in some quarters. (Create unease? That’s putting it mildly.)
But for The University of Arizona to prosper in the years ahead, transformation must occur with a focus on three important areas: 1) we must place an emphasis on innovation; 2) we must strengthen programs that impact the state and can draw state support; and 3) we must dramatically increase our fundraising. (Translation: 1) Make a change, any change – just look like you’re doing something; 2) Give the Republicans in Phoenix what they will fund; and 3) Break out the bake sales.)
This year’s budget reflects what we believe are the first steps to move us toward those goals. (Not a translation, but a request: Does anyone at UA have a copy of this budget? If so, send it to the editor of TC.com)
Through the Transformation Process we will continue to look at creative ways to better serve students and streamline our operations. (These two are sometimes incompatible. You cut out secretaries and advisors to streamline operations and the undergrads fall through the cracks. 1,000+ students in Centennial Hall does not necessarily a good learning environment make. UA has launched at least four of those classes this year.)
The creation of the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Sciences (CLAS) is a good example of the type of effort that can bring about administrative savings and improved opportunities for academic collaboration, without any negative impact on students and their learning experience at the University. (Since this college just formed, I think it premature for Hay/Shelton to claim there is not a negative impact yet. Also, UA has continually refused to put specific numbers to the “administrative savings” the ganga college supposedly has generated: How many people were laid off? What positions were combined? Did the uberdean of CLAS receive a raise? If so, where did that money come from? Etc., etc., etc.)
These are difficult times, but we have taken the first and most important steps to strengthen our ability to prosper in the years ahead. We want to thank everyone who has contributed to this process and, more importantly, thank
everyone whose work continues to make this institution great.