Columbia’s 2016 budget hints at deep cuts

By Campus Editor

Although it is early in the Spring 2015 semester, the college is already making preparations for the next academic year’s budget, a move that will result in staff reductions and budget cuts and require departments to project financial needs months earlier than in past years.

Preparation for the 2016 fiscal year’s budget began the week of Feb. 16, and the college is taking a new approach to the budget-building process, according to a Feb. 18 email to faculty and staff of the college from Michelle Gates, vice president of Business Affairs and CFO, and Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost.

Rather than using current spending as a base for the following year’s budget, the college has developed firm budgeting targets to cut spending across the college, according to the email.

“The college has been running a structural deficit for years now,” Wearden said. “You can’t sustain that for very long because we’re spending beyond our means.”

Wearden said every department will experience budget cuts this year, but the intensity of those cuts will be determined based on whether a department is running structural or chronic deficits and how much revenue it generates.

“In past budgets, if we’ve had to take a cut, we’ve distributed that cut [equally] across the board,” Wearden said. “But that’s not a strategic way of doing things because some departments have [historically run] structural deficits.”

Although budget reductions will occur, the email states no budget reduction will be mandated to simply cut costs. However, budget reductions could affect programs and staffing within the college.

“We have [a] duplication of services around schools and colleges,” Gates said. “We have things that we’re centralizing that while we’re going to reduce some [full-time employees], we expect to not only centralize the services, but also be able to provide better resources.”

Gates said she chose budget targets and gave them to the vice presidents who then decide how to meet those targets within their areas. Departmental access to the college’s online budget system opened Feb. 19 and will remain open through March 11. This year’s budget-building process has been accelerated. Gates and Wearden plan to submit the budget to the Board of Trustees for approval in May, which is earlier than in previous years.

“[The accelerated budget-building process] is absolutely going to be challenging, but it’s challenging for the right reasons,” said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success. “We have some very hard work in front of us with many other competing responsibilities, but in the end it’s the right decision [and] I fully support it.”

To ease the burden of the budget’s preparation, Wearden and Cindy Gonya, associate vice president of the college’s newly created Office of Budget, Planning & Analysis, will meet with department chairs through the end of the week of March 2 to discuss budgeting specifics. Additionally, Gonya will be available to provide assistance and fact-based resources to staff members having difficulties with their budget planning.

“The new [Office of Budget, Planning & Analysis] is there to help provide analysis and [to] support the provost, the schools and the college departments—administrative and academic—in looking at their budgets and trying to understand how they align with spending patterns,” Gates said.

Department chairs Tim Cozzens of the Art + Design Department, Steven Corey of the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department, Onye Ozuzu of the Dance Department, Susan Imus of the Creative Arts Therapies Department and Carol Rozansky of the Education Department and Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, all declined to comment on the 2016 fiscal year budget-building process.

Wearden said that in addition to tackling the college’s deficit, he hopes the limitations placed on next fiscal year’s budget should allow for the reallocation of some resources to important areas of the college.

“We hope to free up some resources to address some of the needs we have as a college, including needs to improve our facilities, to improve our technology and to give a merit pay increase to high-performing faculty and staff.”

Additionally, Gates said they do not plan on reducing the budget in areas of the college relating to upgrading and maintaining campus facilities and classrooms.

“[The new budget] will be beneficial in two ways,” Wearden said. “One [is] it will have us living within our means, but the other is that we’re making these cuts large enough so that they help us address some critical needs that we haven’t been able to address in quite some time.”