University leadership team outlines budget strategies

Interim Provost Linda Seestedt-Stanford on the meeting with Arts & Science faculty and staff. Photo: Jarrett Frazier

Western Carolina University is getting ready for a serious tightening of the belt. The final budget cut plans are due in March.

During a meeting with faculty and staff from the College of Arts & Sciences on Feb. 10, interim provost Linda Seestedt-Stanford described the situation as serious and sad.

“I never thought in my whole career that I will be looking at things in thousands of dollars,” Seestedt-Stanford said.

WCU is preparing for a 15 percent cut in state-funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year and a 2.5 percent reversion of funding for the current fiscal year. On Jan. 31, WCJ covered Chancellor Bardo’s discussion that provided faculty, staff, and students an opportunity to hear possible budget-reduction strategies (details of that plan are provided down in the story).

Tuckasegee Reader recently published a letter from an anonymous source who claims to represent a group of Western Carolina University faculty members.

“What we are most worried about is how decisions will be made about cutting jobs and programs on campus. We know both will happen. What we fear is that the administration will rely on the opinion of one individual for the final decisions that will affect so many of us and the long term strategic interests of the region and state,” is stated in the letter.

With an estimated $3.7 billion state of North Carolina revenue shortfall, WCU is preparing for a 15 percent cut in state funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year and for a 2.5 percent reversion of funding for the current fiscal year.

The 2.5 percent reversion instituted by N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue means the loss of $2.16 million in WCU’s budget from the state this year. A 15 percent cut for next fiscal year’s budget would result in the loss of $12.9 million in state revenue for the university.

During a budget discussion at the end of January, Chancellor Bardo outlined the possible budget-reduction strategies from the university’s senior leadership team, and offered a chance for feedback and suggestions.

“For each of us individually and for the university community, these are very difficult times,” Bardo said. “However, during my more than 15 years of working with you, I have come to understand and have great respect for your capacities, resilience, compassion and willingness to take on difficult tasks. We will come through these tough times and maintain our focus on educating the people of North Carolina and supporting the recovery of this region.”

The strategies that WCU leaders may implement as they attempt to deal with significant cuts in state funding include possible four 10-hour day work weeks during the summer, the reorganization of departments and colleges, and a reduction in the use of part-time and temporary employees.

Bardo said he does not anticipate layoffs and salary cuts to be a part of the budget reduction measures and encouraged faculty and staff to continue to share their thoughts on ways to help the university’s leadership team as it makes tough decisions.

“There are no secrets,” he said. “This is a full-contact sport, and we will take as many of your ideas as possible.”

As Bardo explained, the university is able to absorb the first 5 percent of a 15 percent state budget reduction without additional personnel cuts because of previous actions taken in anticipation of the state’s current fiscal problems. However, if the additional 10 percent cut in state revenues happens that could lead to the loss of approximately 42 positions.

The university currently has a total of 1,292 budgeted full-time positions. The Division of Academic Affairs, which accounts for about 75 percent of the university’s total budget, is expected to absorb the brunt of the impact from the state’s budgets cuts. The division saw 55 percent of budget cuts in 2008-09 and 72 percent of cuts in 2009-10.

Seestedt-Stanford said that a 15 percent budget cut would mean the loss of $6.7 million in funding to the Division of Academic Affairs.

“There is not much for us to take that does not cut into the meat of what we do,” Seestedt-Stanford said. “There is no way around it when you are looking at a $6.7 million cut. There are things that are going to have to go.”

She also outlined a program prioritization process expected to be completed by Feb. 15 that will help guide her and other university leaders in the process of determining where those cuts may come, with decisions to be announced by March 1.

Decisions regarding staff reductions also should be announced by March 1, with decisions regarding faculty reductions to be announced as contract issues such as tenure and notification permit.

Names of personnel will not be released for confidentiality reasons, but Seestedt-Stanford hinted that adjunct and part-time faculty had the most to fear.

“We pay about $1.2 million per year in adjunct faculty salaries,” she said. “If we can reduce the use of adjunct faculty salaries then we can reserve that money and use it in other areas.”

Bardo said that throughout the budget cut discussions a focus will be placed on protecting WCU’s academic core.

“By academic core, I mean the basic programs that any accredited university, focusing on UNC Tomorrow, should offer, as well as those enabling activities that allow for the effective and efficient delivery of those core programs,” he said.

Bardo went on to define “enabling activities” as services a university must have in order to function – everything from maintaining information technology infrastructure to registering for classes and paying the bills.

More information and updates on the budget visit the Chancellor’s budget website.

Brittany Hink and WCJ staff contributed to this story.