Dean's Newsletter

Vol. 5, Issue 4

February 2011: Vol. 5, Issue 4

“The Winter of our Discontent”

The 2008 economic earthquake that rattled American financial institutions and shook the foundations of our entire economy produced a tsunami that has taken two years to reach the shores of state governments across the country. For the last two years, for example, much of Ohio state government has been financed by one-time Obama stimulus monies, which will have been spent by the end of this fiscal year. Now, the big wave is about to break over state-funded institutions like Cleveland State University, and it promises to create serious dislocations and distress.

We are talking about large cuts to CSU state subsidies, which currently account for about 34% of our university budget. University leaders are now projecting a 20 to 25% cut in state subsidy, and this would reduce university income between $14 to $18 million per year. Of course, if the university increases enrollments and tuition—as the administration plans—we can cover some of the gap, but we will not come close to covering it all.

President Berkman and senior university leadership now face the daunting task of cutting the permanent budget. The President has made it clear that the cuts will be strategic, i.e., not across-the-board. To that end, he convened a budget task force, with representation from across the campus leadership. (Two other college deans represented all college deans on that task force.) The task force recommended, and the President accepted, a series of budgetary targets for all sectors of the university—academic support, university support, and academic colleges. Each sector was given targets to achieve, either by cutting expenses or raising revenues. The academic colleges were separated into three groups: A, B, and C, each representing a different level of cuts. I am sorry to write that CLASS (along with two other colleges) was placed in category C, with the highest level of proposed cuts. Our primary target is a cut of 11%, or $2,277.586, and we need to come up with our preliminary plan by February 22nd.

Actually, CLASS was given three targets to prepare—a low target of 7.5%, a primary target of 11%, and a high target of 14.5%. CLASS has been invited to make the case for the lower rather than the middle range of cuts, and I will be pursuing that argument aggressively. At the same time, the high target will be available if the President and Provost decide they need to cut more than expected from the CLASS budget.

At an open meeting on February 10th, the President and Provost will present their thinking on the budget targets and the process they employed to arrive at them. I urge all concerned personnel in the college to attend that meeting.

When we look at where specifically one can cut the CLASS budget by 11%, the real difficulty of our position comes into focus. In the spring of 2009, for example, when CLASS was required to cut 5% of its permanent budget, the cuts were relatively easy. Although we did cut one empty faculty line, two empty staff lines, and some travel monies, most of that cut came from uncommitted funds, which posed little threat to actual CLASS operations. As I look at the CLASS budget today, however, the situation is quite different. There is really no fat to be cut. Only about 5% of our permanent budget, for example, is non-salary expenses. We can and will cut some of this, but you can’t run a college without telephones, faxes, photocopiers, and other kinds of supplies. Thus, the hard fact is that most of the proposed cuts will have to be made in personnel funding. We do have some salary savings that we may be able to contribute to the pot, but we do not have enough salary savings to reach our target on that alone. In addition, we do have a significant pot of money for part-time instruction, but the President’s budget scenario is predicated on the assumption that our student credit hour production will increase by small percentages in each of the coming year. So, given that part-time instruction is an inexpensive way to create SCH, we can not indiscriminately cut part-time instruction without making other adjustments as well.

So here are some of the hard choices we will face in the coming weeks. We will end up with a mixture of the following possibilities:

  • Reductions in non-salary expenses
  • Increases in tuition and fees for select high-demand programs
  • Elimination of accumulated salary savings, unless needed to fund current or future searches
  • Reductions in part-time salary budget made possible by strategies to maintain college enrollments, such as …
    • Increases in faculty workloads
    • Significant increases in class sizes
    • Voluntary reductions to the rate of pay for summer teaching for full-time faculty
  • Closing of current faculty searches
  • Elimination of select staff
  • Elimination of select full-time, non-tenured faculty
  • Staff and faculty furloughs
  • Elimination of select under-enrolled academic programs
  • Merging of select departments and/or department staffs

We will probably not have to do all these things, but we will certainly have to do many. The goal is to come out of this process with a more stream-lined, more efficient, but equally productive operation. That, of course, is easier said than done, but we have no choice but to try. I am aware that the college is woven into a dense fabric of contractual obligations, and we will respect those obligations. Finally, I can assure you that, to the extent possible, the Dean’s Office and staff will share in whatever sacrifices we ask college faculty and staff to make.

These decisions will be made after intense, interactive consultations with college stakeholders, especially faculty and staff. I will be open to hearing options and suggestions from anyone who has a constructive idea. Here is a preliminary schedule of those consultations:

  • CLASS Cabinet, February 2
  • CLASS Joint Faculty and Staff meeting, February 7
  • CLASS Budget and Planning Committee, date to be determined
  • CLASS Caucus, date to be determined

Please make every effort to attend at least one of these meetings. As I noted above, our preliminary plans are due in the Provost’s Office on February 22nd.

I came to CSU five and a half years ago, with great plans to build, unify, and inspire the college after the disorienting division of the former College of Arts and Sciences. Over the years I have worked hard at those goals and have come to see the college and its personnel as a sort of extended family, and I can tell you that what hurts my family, hurts me. To the extent that these cuts threaten to undo some of what we together have accomplished over the years, I am very concerned. To the extent that we may lose some valuable colleagues, I am deeply saddened. However, we will not be defeated by this, and I pledge to work my hardest to bring the college through this very difficult time in good order. In return, I ask you to work with me constructively to respond to this significant challenge.

A year from now, the college will be functioning in the “new normal.” We will be smaller and more efficient. We will still be involved in our essential missions, which include forming our non-traditional working-class students into the leaders of tomorrow, and doing it very well. After all, many of our students who work in the private sector or who have family members in the private sector experienced their own private economic tsunamis over the past several years. And they endured. And so shall we.

Best wishes,