Budget cuts constrain UCLA
June 21, 2009 11:42 p.m.
UCLA and the University of California system are poised to endure large-scale changes due to the state’s budget crisis, university administrators said in a town hall meeting on June 16.
“Our academic structure can no longer be supported by our funding,” said Scott Waugh, executive vice chancellor and provost, to a gathering of almost 100 faculty members in Charles E. Young Grand Salon.
Waugh said that the state’s unprecedented budget crisis means that UCLA will have to make a number of serious cuts to its academic and administrative programs, among others, as soon as next fall.
“We could not imagine the magnitude of the cuts we’ll have to do. There’s been nothing like this,” Waugh said at the town hall.
Because the university expects to see a drastic reduction in the funding it receives from the state, UCLA will be forced to decrease $40 million from its budget in the 2009-2010 school year, even after staff salary reductions and already-planned program cuts are considered, said Steve Olsen, vice chancellor for finance, budget and capital programs, during the meeting.
The university has the financial reserves to cushion the blow for the 2009-2010 school year and turn it into a transition year, when the process of cutting or downsizing programs and phasing in new changes in the academic structure will begin, Waugh said.
But he added that such a large funding gap will make it necessary to permanently get rid of various programs and features.
“What is essential to research, teaching and service will be maintained,” he said at the meeting. “What isn’t essential will have to go.”
The diminishing funding coming in from Sacramento could equate to a restructuring of everything from general education requirements to whole majors and course offerings in the next several years, leading to a host of changes for students, Waugh said.
“It might mean some classes get larger. It might be fewer majors,” said Michael Goldstein, the chair of the Academic Senate, which will work with the administration in task forces this summer to come up with solutions to the budgetary problems.
An example of a costly area that could face considerable cuts is foreign language instruction, Waugh said, adding that this could be realized through the elimination of the College of Letters and Science’s foreign language requirement.
But without such a requirement, foreign language programs would suffer and students would not be exposed to certain cultures they otherwise might have studied, said Katrina Thompson, an assistant professor of applied linguistics and instructor of Swahili, who is the only professor currently teaching African languages.
“If there’s no requirement, I would expect that the number of students taking an African language would drop,” Thompson said, adding that smaller departments could get hit hard by impending cuts. She said that administrators should re-evaluate what they consider essential to the university’s academic mission.
“If we’re going to stay a premier research institution … we can’t focus on areas of study that we can only see an immediate use from,” Thompson said. “We need to have a broader vision, which would include allowing students to study things that are more obscure.”
Waugh said that the administration will work to alleviate the impact these underfunded programs experience.
“We’re going to use our reserves for areas that are particularly hard hit in undergraduate instruction in the College of Letters and Science,” he said, mentioning the humanities and social sciences specifically.
Professor pay cuts
The university is already taking steps to mitigate the impact of the upcoming cuts. However, because the state’s deadline to finalize its budget is July 1, the UC does not know how much money will be allocated by the state and cannot tell exactly which programs will be affected in comparison to others.
Each department must plan on becoming 10-20 percent smaller, Waugh said at the town hall meeting, where he also warned of a strict university-wide hiring limit.
In addition, he alerted faculty of several options being proposed by UC President Mark Yudof to reduce faculty salary or impose furloughs, or the reduction of weekly working hours or days.
Waugh said that Yudof has insisted that his system of salary decreases be equitable, or delivered to each department equally.
But a number of the faculty present said that these reductions would be unfair because certain professors bring in extra revenue to the university through the indirect costs associated with their federal research grants.
Another issue under discussion was how stable the university funding of its pension plan would be.
Funds from the federal government and from industry support two-thirds of the retirement plan, but that is only if the university continues to fund the other one-third, said Daniel Mitchell, a professor emeritus at the Anderson School of Management and School of Public Affairs.
“(For) every dollar that is not put into the pension plan, we lose two dollars,” Mitchell, an expert on budgetary issues, said.
“They need to come to some very quick decisions on how to handle this so that the pension plan alone doesn’t cripple the university.”
The UC and the state
Yudof and the UC Board of Regents are also working on cutting costs, said Ricardo Vazquez, a spokesman from the Office of the President, adding that salary cuts to top senior officials and reductions in travel and purchases have already been implemented.
He said that the regents have been working aggressively in consultation with the UC-wide Academic Senate in order to confront the fiscal challenges facing the university before their upcoming meeting on July 14.
But Mitchell said that the regents should not wait until July to meet and discuss such a crisis, as they are the only ones who can implement necessary policies for the survival of the university.
“We need the regents to understand how severe the problem is and start working on it,” he said. “They should be in session now, not in the middle of July.”
He noted that the situation is particularly pressing because it is so unlike past budget crises that the UC and the state have faced.
While in the past, the university may have been able to rely on borrowing funds from the state or dipping into an over-funded pension plan to pay the bills, it can no longer depend on such temporary fixes.
“The cuts we’re going to face in the next fiscal year are permanent,” Mitchell said. “The state won’t just recover and put the money back. It’s a permanent change.”
It will therefore become imperative for UCLA to significantly reduce its operations.
“What we’re talking about is downsizing the university, period,” Mitchell said. “Fewer students, fewer faculty, fewer support staff. … We’re talking about very seriously downsizing UCLA.”
Waugh echoed this sentiment at the faculty town hall meeting.
“These reductions will require a major restructure of our academic programs,” he said. “We have to find $40 million. Therefore, everything ““ everything ““ is on the table.”
The administrators acknowledged that things may become more difficult for students and faculty during this economic downturn.
“There’s no way to find $40 million without making some people very unhappy in the short term,” said Goldstein of the Academic Senate. “Things are going to get worse for a lot of people. There’s no question about that.”
But he also stressed that, though the future remains hazy, the university will work hard for the students to be able to continue and finish their education easily.
“The university, the state and the administration are committed to making things work as smoothly as possible … so that (they) get the courses they need to graduate on time,” Goldstein said. “It’s the highest priority for the state, the highest priority for the administration.”
“But as this point, the specifics are just unknown.”