What’s in this Issue:
Joint Committee Report Inspires Beginnings of Progress
The Faculty Senate/AAUP-UC Joint Budget Committee was formed in Spring 2020 to analyze the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the UC budget, evaluate the extent of shared sacrifice across colleges and non-academic units, and identify strategies to preserve the core academic mission of instruction and research. After months of collecting information, conducting analysis, determining recommendations, and crafting all of this work into a presentable form, the Committee released its report in November 2020.
The report’s key short-term recommendation was for the current 8% across-the-board budget cut mandated of all colleges to be reduced to a cut of 3%. Longer-term recommendations centered on 1. challenging the idea that permanent budget adjustments are the way to improve the quality and growth of every UC college and 2. questioning the university’s increasing tendency of outsized spending on activities not central to our mission.
In order to ensure continued collaboration with University administration, Faculty Senate and AAUP have outlined clear goals and next-steps. For example, along with directly emailing the report to university leadership upon its release, hard copies were also printed, bound, and mailed in January 2021 to President Pinto, Provost Nelson, the Deans of all UC colleges, and all members of the Board of Trustees. Additionally, the delivery of the report was accompanied by an immediate request for regular meetings between the AAUP-UC Budget and Compensation Committee and the Vice President of Finance to facilitate in-depth budget discussions.
AAUP-UC and Faculty Senate were thus pleased to receive a response in late January, with an invitation from Provost Nelson, Senior VP for Administration & Finance Robert Ambach, and VP for Finance Pat Kowalski to meet on February 11 to discuss issues raised by the report. On that date, Amber Peplow (Chair of AAUP-UC Budget and Priorities Committee), Erwin Erhardt (Chair of Faculty Senate Budget and Priorities Committee), and Greg Loving (Chair of Faculty Senate) spoke with this group to determine first steps in creating a more transparent budgeting process that more significantly incorporates faculty voices.
In this productive meeting, members decided:
- the administration would provide training on UC’s budgeting practices to the Senate and AAUP Budget committees in order to help alleviate the steep learning curve that all members, especially newer ones, face in analyzing and interpreting UC’s budget documents
- the administration would assist the AAUP and Senate Budget committees in conducting “deep dives” on topics of budgetary concern as they arise for each group
- the Chair of the AAUP-UC Budget and Priorities committee will now join the university Fiscal Coordinating Committee, a committee containing representatives of multiple constituencies from across the university where budgeting information and decisions are communicated
- the Chairs of the AAUP and Senate Budget committees have met with the administration to talk about how to improve the ways that UC budget information is communicated to the AAUP.
The Faculty Senate/AAUP-UC Joint Budget Committee report has hopefully, then, provided an impetus for needed changes in the way UC determines how to allocate its all-too-finite resources. We only need to look at fellow public Ohio universities like Wright State and Akron that have been devastated by financial mismanagement to understand that UC cannot afford to eliminate faculty input into how its money should be spent. AAUP-UC and Faculty Senate look forward to continue moving from these early steps towards a more truly shared budgetary decision-making process between UC administration and faculty.
Response to President Pinto
In the Faculty Senate and AAUP Joint Budget Committee Report, the committee recommended the 8% permanent budget cut enacted in response to COVID-19 be rolled back to 3% cuts. At the January 14 Faculty Senate meeting, President Pinto addressed the administrations’ position on rolling back the 8% permanent cuts and indicated that those funds would not be released until the end of the pandemic. Dr. Pinto commented that academics are the highest priority, but expressed concern that there was too much uncertainty over possible expenses that the university could incur before the pandemic is over. Specifically, he pointed to the fact that the dorms are not and cannot be as full as they have been in past years due to COVID-19. At the time of the meeting, he reported that enrollment was down slightly for Spring as well. He also suggested that if funds were leftover, he in consultation with the deans would decide how to reinvest the funds in the University. While I greatly appreciate President Pinto being forthcoming and upfront with his intentions regarding the budget cuts, I want to point out a couple of inconsistencies in his position.
- First the type of expenses for which Dr. Pinto is holding these funds in reserve are temporary in nature, but the cuts are permanent. This follows the university’s trend over the last decade of diverting funds away from the academic mission of the university, instruction and research.
- President Pinto contends that the university will always need funds to invest for the future of UC, but I ask where are the funds to invest in the students of today? How can we claim to be focused on the academic mission when year after year the funds spent in these areas decline on per FTE student basis and total dollars spent fail to keep pace with inflation?
Shortly following this meeting, several announcements were made that continue to put UC in a more favorable financial position. Governor Dewine rescinded $100 million of the original $110 million in budget cuts to higher education on January 22. Stronger than expected sales tax numbers led to the reinstatement of these funds. Although previously the administration has argued that reductions to SSI are permanent in nature, this announcement clearly indicates that this is not the case under the pandemic and surely with 91% of the funding returned to higher education the 8% budget cut need not be permanent to the colleges. On January 25, the Enquirer touted that UC athletics had $7.7 million unspent in their 19-20 budget. Instead of holding college funds hostage, perhaps these funds could be held in reserve for investment in UC. In addition, UC is set to receive $39.2 million dollars from the Covid-19 relief passed by Congress in December. In this round of Covid relief, UC must use at least $11.7 million for student aid, but the remaining $27.5 million may be used to offset university wide Covid-19 expenses.
As detailed in the Faculty Senate and AAUP Joint Report, the financial impact of Covid-19 has been minimal because it was offset by CARES act funding and strong enrollment. With this additional positive financial news, the case for returning funds to the college is even stronger. At this time, the administration has failed to make a clear and detailed case to justify these cuts on a temporary basis, let alone a permanent one. Even if a case was made for large upcoming Covid-19 expenses, the Joint Report recommends that these funds come from non-academic areas. Covid-19 expenses should not be funded at the expense of the quality of the current students’ education or of the invisible uncompensated labor of faculty and staff. The fat has been sufficiently and thoroughly trimmed at the college level. In fact, many colleges are at the point of cutting muscle and bone, and some have hit marrow. Rather than continuing to starve the academic programs, UC’s administration needs to reverse cuts that were made to the colleges and invest in the students of today and tomorrow. Given the solid financial base of the university, we don’t accept that it is adequate to say that you are stripping the colleges of finances for some unknown future investment. We need to know where and when the university is going to invest that money in the educational mission of the colleges.
- Other administrators have also expressed concerns over the cost of Covid-19 testing at other times.
- At the same meeting, the Provost noted that enrollment was only down by approximately 300 students compared to Spring last year. In addition, UC has announced a record number of applications for Fall 2021, which are up by 8%. UC is expecting to set another record-breaking enrollment in Fall 2021.
Ordinary life amid extraordinary times
Hi everyone. It’s been almost a year. I don’t know about you, but I miss people. So I thought we could add a bit of fun to our regular communications: if you’d like, please share with us a picture from your 2020/2021 at-home life style. I’ve included two here, to start us off.
The first photo is of is my cat, up in my husband Don’s new-to-2020 home office (our guest bedroom). Her name is Matter Energy Transfer Beam, but we call her Mattie. She is definitely enjoying having both her humans around all day, every day.
The second picture is of my efforts to make a little indoor green space in my own home office. The center piece, a huge jade plant, has been travelling with me for about 18 years, and I’ve had the little cactus almost as long. The pothos was draped all over my office at school, and come home abruptly last March, with all its poor little tendrils stuffed into the pot. Once, I almost killed the jade by overwatering it—a rookie mistake—but I saved an upper branch, re-rooted it, and here we still are.
We’d love to see you, your pets, your kids, your alphabetized bookshelves, whatever has been an important part of your life this last year. It’s been tough, I know, but I also know you all have shown extraordinary professionalism, patience, and innovation as you strive to provide our students and our research community with your continued talents.
Send your photos and thoughts to: firstname.lastname@example.org