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CAHNRS Budget Update V

Posted by | February 24, 2009

Recent news concerning the state’s budget situation, and its impact on WSU, has not been encouraging. Several developments transpired last week, including a new preliminary state budget forecast, legislative testimony by WSU administrators, and the expected rumors and responses both within and outside WSU. Hopefully, this update will reduce some of the confusion and fill in some of the existing information gaps.

We are facing an unprecedented economic climate. Recently, to aid in budget planning, the Legislature requested a preliminary update of the FY-10 budget forecast from the Office of Fiscal Management. This forecast came in at a whopping $8.2 billion projected deficit – nearly $3 billion higher than the forecast on which the Governor based her proposed budget (which included a 12% cut to higher education).

President Floyd was recently quoted as saying that we were hoping for 12%, but preparing for an 18-20% reduction. Clearly, the likelihood of the latter scenario is extremely high, and we need to be thinking in those terms. A 20% reduction of state funds to WSU translates to over $50 million per year; for CAHNRS, this is equivalent to $2.2 million in Academic Programs, $4.9 million in the ARC, and $1.3 million of Extension funding. To put this scale of reduction in perspective, for the folks who have been at WSU for some time, this is more than double what the university endured in 1982 (the most significant reduction of the past three decades).

While the university administration has not fully developed its strategy for addressing a shortfall of this magnitude, a couple of points are clear. First, there is a desire for the academic and research enterprises to receive a lower percentage reduction than the overall reduction. This implies that budgets other than research and academic programs will receive a disproportionately large hit. Second, reductions of this magnitude will require closing some programs and units across the university, and these closures will be largely informed by the A2P2 process and productivity metrics.

Recent presentations to legislative committees by university officials have raised some concerns. One scenario presented by Provost Bayly included a 49% (75%) reduction to “public service” associated with a 12% (18%) overall budget reduction. It is important to remember that this is just a planning scenario; we are busy informing the Provost’s Office about how a large, disproportionate cut in Extension would translate through our college’s operation.

Addressing a budget reduction of this magnitude requires very different thinking than has occurred in the past. Some of you may have read the article in the local paper about colleges “doing the little things” to reduce spending. Obviously, we all need to do everything in our power to reduce expenditures, and I truly appreciate everything you are doing to contribute to these efforts; but I believe articles of this type tend to trivialize the gravity of the situation. In times like this, administrators certainly need to be hopeful and positive, but we also need to be truthful about the situation. The fact is that this shortfall cannot be addressed by moving to electronic correspondence, eliminating events, reducing travel, etc. Eliminating technician or administrative positions here and there will not address it, either. We will look very different as a university and as a college – in terms of the number, size, and scope of our programs – after all of the necessary changes to address this shortfall have been implemented.

Over the next couple of weeks, a plan for the university will begin to galvanize. This plan will be informed by the 12/20% scenarios submitted by all colleges and non-academic units, as well as input of university-level administrators, deans, and the Budget Advisory Council. I anticipate that the plan will be made public sometime in early April.

Finally, I wish to thank you for your patience and understanding during these uncertain times. Despite these challenges, the college continues to excel and accomplish great things. A special note of appreciation needs to go out to our unit administrators (chairs and directors). They are being asked to make extraordinary sacrifices and gut-wrenching decisions, and I commend them for their leadership.