UVM opens budget conversation to include UVM community

After over a year of balancing deficits, the University has dealt with a variety of campus reactions, including protests, forums and general apathy. This round, the University is changing its approach to budget planning by inviting the community to participate. UVM’s current deficit for 2011’s budget stands at $4.5 million, a figure brought down from a potential $9.5 million during the last two months. The deficit still needs to be reconciled before a preliminary budget can be presented to the Board of Trustees in April. ‘All members of the University community are encouraged to think creatively about the budget for the upcoming fiscal year,’ Provost Jane Knodell said in an e-mail to UVM students. Budget difficulties have been plaguing the University since 2008, when the struggling economy put UVM, among many other colleges, into considerable financial debt. UVM predicts that, after this year, the budget will be balanced. ‘Our budget situation is much better than that of many of our peer institutions, and we will have eliminated our deficit by [fiscal year] 2012, thereby enabling us to continue to improve academic quality and to thrive in the future,’ Vice President for Finance and Administration Richard Cate said on UVM’s budget planning website. With that goal in mind, the administration will be collecting input from the UVM community’ through the end of January. Unlike previous years, Knodell said, cuts will not be made with a specific percentage in mind, but rather, strategically. ‘The problem in cutting across the board is that you kind of bleed everybody,’ Knodell said. As for what can be cut, the goal will be to preserve the lecturers and look at the administrative aspects of the University instead, Knodell said. One measure that is on the table, is leaving vacant positions unfilled on the non-academic side, Knodell said. These positions include everything outside of lecturers, faculty and teaching assistants. ‘[It is] not necessarily making everyone work harder, but trying to think through the business process so that it takes less time to accomplish work,’ Knodell said. UVM’s transdisciplinary research initiative, still in the planning stages, will require restructuring in order to support the new research program. Knodell said that it will not factor very much into the 2011 budget. Instead, reallocation will factor into the following year. ‘To do funded research, you need staff that supports you, in terms of helping you put grants together, and then once you get a grant, there’s a huge amount of compliance that goes on, and just a lot of administrative support is required for funded research,’ Knodell said. ‘We need to preserve that infrastructure.’ Student Government Association (SGA) President Bryce Jones said that the SGA was approached by administration members including Knodell and Cate. Jones said that the administration stressed the need to approach the budget differently. Part of the process of getting community input is to include the campus governance groups in the conversation. These groups include the Faculty Senate, Staff Council and the SGA. ‘They are keeping us in the loop as far as communication lines,’ Jones said. Jones also said that the SGA would like to organize an open forum after UVM’s Board of Trustees meet on Feb. 5. The administration has expressed a willingness to help. ‘[After the board meeting], hopefully we’ll have more information … so people can be previewing the information before,’ Jones said. Budget planning, however, often has complexities that are part of a the skillset of those whose careers are built around finance, Jones said. In that sense, the conversation is a difficult one to make contributions to, he said. ‘We all need more time to really dig into these topics,’ he said. English Professor Nancy Welch said that she thinks the change in tone from the administration is a response to student, staff and faculty activism last spring. ‘Students in particular should be applauded for standing up for education, which resulted in the administration standing down on some of the worst of their proposals,’ she said. ‘Their change in tone, however, does not necessarily indicate a change in substance.’