College tightens budget, MPC project unfazed

By Timothy Bearden

In the midst of the national economic downturn, Columbia President Warrick L. Carter issued a memo regarding what will be done in order to reduce the college’s spending.

The memo was sent out to the Columbia community on Oct. 15 and said the college would implement a hiring freeze of full-time positions, consider replacement positions on a case-by-case basis, restrict foreign and domestic travel not already approved by the administration and curb construction and campus renovation projects.

Current construction projects, however, will go on as planned. Projects such as the Media Production Center and renovations at the 916-1000 S. Wabash Ave. and 618 S. Michigan Ave. buildings are not affected by the budget restrictions, said Micki Leventhal, director of media relations at Columbia.

“The money has already been set aside for those projects,” she said. “The ones on line and committed will not be affected by this spending freeze. Any projects on the drawing board are the ones that will be affected.”

Leventhal said she didn’t know which projects would be affected yet. Some projects in the planning phases for “improving student spaces” right now are the redefining of Columbia’s bookstore and the admissions office, according to a progress report from the Office of Campus Environment.

The college is also curbing any “non-course-related international travel” and domestic travel that has yet to be approved by the Office of the President or area vice president. Steve Kapelke, Provost and Senior Vice President, said students who are already planning study abroad trips will not be affected by this, but trips that didn’t involve students directly will be.

“If a senior administrator or faculty member wants to go to an international conference, that would probably not be approved,” he said. “The difference is about the direct educational benefit to the student.”

It was also announced at the alumni reunion weekend on Oct. 4 that Columbia lost $24 million in endowments due to the state of the economy. As of press time, it was unclear as to how much money was lost in the college’s long-term investment portfolio, but Carter’s memo said Columbia took a “serious hit.”

Columbia is not alone in the losses. According to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges across the nation have taken hits. Kapelke also said this is an issue for all of higher education but is unsure whether it’s a long-term or short-term problem.

“Things are unsettled enough throughout higher education, as it relates to the economic climate we’re living in right now, that [the spending freeze] is a very prudent and necessary move on the part of the college,” he said.

Leventhal said the memo wasn’t in reaction to the losses, but a preventative measure to continually secure the college’s finances.

“The leadership of the college has been very proactive in saying ‘We don’t know how long this will last, what’s coming or when things will stabilize,'” she said. “We have to plan because our primary focus is trying to assist our students in keeping our tuition stable.”

Leventhal said it’s part of the college’s “moral and ethical responsibility” to assess Columbia’s finances and be conservative with its spending.