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EDITORIAL: Budget forum shows need for students to care how CMU spends, raises money

On Friday, Central Michigan University administrators hosted a Budget Forum to explain the university’s projected two-year $20 million budget deficit.

We now know that at least 24 faculty and staff members will be laid off. Another 30 vacant positions were eliminated.

Despite what administrators say, and however neatly they package it, these layoffs will have a negative effect on students and the university community.

It’s time for us, the students of CMU, to pay greater attention to how the university is spending our money.

We fear that decisions made by administrators and forces beyond CMU’s control are moving the school in a direction that sometimes distracts from its overall academic mission.

Instead of investing in liberal arts and training future educators, our focus has shifted to offer greater support to University Athletics and establishing the College of Medicine. In recent years, these areas, in particular, have outshined other priorities, both in prestige and in actual dollars invested.

We’ve also expanded STEM programs and have become more research-oriented. While both of these areas are important to students and faculty, we cannot disregard our liberal arts legacy — the DNA of CMU.

Consider this a call to action. We have an obligation to demand an honest and wide-ranging conversation about how CMU should best distribute money it raises through tuition. The university must also refocus its resources on raising money through donations.

For years, fundraising at CMU for academic colleges, University Athletics and CMED has had abysmal returns. Todd Anson, one of CMU’s donors and a former member of the university’s development board, wrote to Central Michigan Life addressing these concerns.

Anson wrote that CMU’s lack of innovation in regard to the way it seeks large donations has set the university a decade behind in its development goals.

Last year, Bob Martin, vice president of Advancement, was hired and fundraising reached an all-time high. This is a good start toward solving some of our financial woes.

CMU must focus on garnering more donations. With more dollars coming in through the spirit of charity and school spirit, administrators should reduce subsidies to athletics and CMED.

We fundamentally agree with the mission of CMED. The students it graduates will fill a much-needed void for well-trained doctors in rural areas. We don’t agree, however, that it should come at the expense of the institution’s other academic missions.

If anything can be taken away from Friday’s budget forum, it’s that university officials should not run the university “business as usual.”

It’s easy to place the entire blame for our deficit at the feet of administrators. Yet in many ways, the deficit is the result of forces outside of CMU’s control.

Seven years ago, Gov. Rick Snyder gutted public education spending and has yet to return appropriation levels for CMU and other public universities to where they were before he took office. Michigan high schools are graduating fewer students, which directly affects our enrollment. The economy is on an upswing, making community college for people seeking new careers a less necessary option. Fewer community college students means fewer students transferring to CMU.

The university has used an enrollment projection model that has historically been reliable. This year it failed.

This year, the state’s House of Representatives and the Senate reduced the amount of university aid suggested by the governor's office — showing contempt for higher education and the young people like us who are having to pay the highest tuition rates in Michigan history.

There’s no way to anticipate whether these factors will become trends. CMU officials know that. We should also understand that laying off staff, cutting academic department budgets, and freezing salary increases for faculty and staff won’t fix our long term issues if these outside forces continue to affect the university.

Students and faculty members at the forum said these cuts change the very nature of CMU — what it looks like and the kinds of graduates it produces. This is where we, the students and the customers of CMU, can make a difference.

We have an obligation to make our voices heard. We must do everything we can to convince administrators that cuts to specialized areas — like foreign languages and other departments in the College of Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences — do a disservice to the educational experience.

If administrators can raise more money, and we help them along the way, the future of CMU will be brighter than ever.

The university’s new marketing catch phrase is “Put Your Stamp on The World.”

Let’s start by leaving our mark on the university we love by taking an interest in the way administrators raise and spend our money.