Students, faculty raise concerns about job cuts, expenditures at budget forum
Students, faculty and staff crammed into French Auditorium on Friday to voice concerns about Central Michigan University's projected two-year $20 million budget deficit, impending program cuts and staff layoffs.
The event was a long-awaited Budget Priorities Committee Forum to discuss how CMU found its way to the budget shortfall, which Barrie Wilkes, vice president of Finance and Administration, said was at least 4 percent of the overall budget. Wilkes and Provost Michael Gealt led the forum, presenting explanations for reductions and allowing audience members to ask questions.
Those questions ranged on a number of topics, including University Athletics' $22 million subsidy and reductions across the university — namely, the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, which expects to experience the largest cuts to course sections and faculty.
President George Ross was not in attendance due to a meeting, drawing boos from students, faculty and staff in the standing-room only crowd. The audience jeered several times during the forum, and voiced disapproval for the administration's explanation and handling of the budget deficit.
“Whenever we talk about the budget, it’s a difficult conversation because the budget is very complicated," Wilkes said. "We all need to come back to student experience, whether you’re an administrator, whether you’re a faculty member — it’s why we’re here. That’s the most important part.”
Wilkes said changes in enrollment and lack of state appropriations have played a role in the creation of a budget shortfall. Transfer and international student enrollment has decreased. State appropriations make up only 17 percent of CMU’s operating budget.
To begin the meeting, Wilkes delivered a presentation on budget figures. He added that nearly 24 faculty and staff members will be laid off in June. In addition, 30 vacant positions are slated for elimination. He told Central Michigan Life after the meeting that those staff members will be notified individually.
Wilkes and Gealt attempted to answer a barrage of questions, sometimes succinctly and at other times deferring to other leaders of the Budget Priorities Committee.
Audience members were given the opportunity to submit questions on note cards throughout the forum. As the forum became more contentious, they sometimes shouted follow ups, demanding answers. They clapped in response to questions that addressed a "less than successful" athletics programs and those questions calling for more support to foreign language courses.
The crowd also cheered when Ray Christie, senior vice provost of Academic Administration, read a question regarding low-wage staff members. This question asked why should they lose their jobs while administrators continue to get increases in salaries.
In regards to athletics, Wilkes said he sees faculty and students as priorities ahead of sports, but countered that statement by saying athletics plays a role in the "student experience."
Students in the crowd shouted back at him, with one saying: "I'm not here for sports. I'm here for my education."
Wilkes said early estimates show $250,000 in reductions to University Athletics. University officials will be able to say for certain when all reductions are finalized.
A short examination of the 2017-18 fiscal year operating budget was also shown, which will be announced in full at the Board of Trustees' meeting on June 29.
While some were satisfied with their answers, students concerned with cuts CHSBS reiterated several times that the college has the most students on campus. Members from that college said it also generates the largest revenue on campus, more than $53 million, according to one professor in the crowd. She added that at least 20 fixed-term faculty members in CHSBS will not be back next year.
Another professor with the college said CHSBS is the most profitable unit at CMU, making $2.50 for every dollar the university invests back in to the home of general education and University Program courses.
"You don't cut from your most profitable company," she said. "You cut from where you're hemorrhaging money."
For the most part, professors in CHSBS exclaimed their dissatisfaction with the handling of layoffs, with one saying "it is disingenuous and dishonest to say you’re not cutting faculty."
Gealt countered with saying the college is generating fewer student credit hours than it has in the past. The reductions to CHSBS are being made to align expenses with revenue coming in, he continued.
Senior officers and their increasing salaries were another topic of discussion. According to data in Wilkes' presentation, senior officer positions increased from 40 to 41 in the past 10 years, with total salaries and benefits growing from an average of $167,000 to nearly $259,000.
In the case of things directly affecting students, like cuts to course sections, the university would be obligated to add sections depending on student interest, Wilkes said. Scholarships and financial aid will not be affected by cuts either.
From Wilkes' perspective, CMU has invested a lot of money into Enrollment and Student Services. Admissions in ESS is immune to reductions. However, Gealt said CMU has a 77 percent retention rate of first time at college freshmen, and that number is troubling to him. Gealt used that explanation to justify costs such as student success coaches, even though the university won't be able to gauge their effectiveness for "a number of years."
Toward the end of the forum, someone asked if they have to go to the Board of Trustees to get to unanswered questions.
“I don’t think they really addressed the core issues of this budget,” said David Jesuit, chairman of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.
The Board of Trustees' next formal meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 27 in the Bovee University Center's President's Conference Room. The room is located on the top floor of the UC.