“We had 27 senators who said they felt the need for this special meeting,” Dr. Sue Dennison said. The meeting was held Feb. 20.
With a Virginia Dare Room full of faculty and interested listeners, Chancellor Linda P. Brady and the senators shared information and their viewpoints regarding the budget. A report at the most recent Faculty Senate meeting had showed that UNCG’s budget next year may have a cut of more than $12 million. An early proposal was that 84 percent of that cut could come from Academic Affairs, it was reported.
Some out-of-the-box ideas were presented, as questions were asked and information was shared.
Speakers, in addition to Sue Dennison, included Chair Patti Sink (who called the meeting to order and presided), Deb Bell, John Lepri, Wade Maki, Fabrice Lehoucq, David H. Perrin, Ian Beatty, Veronica Grossi, Rick Barton, Kathy Crowe, Bryan Toney, Gary Rosenkrantz, George Dimock, Spoma Jovanovic and Jim Carmichael. Near the conclusion, Trustees chair David Sprinkle and UNCG freshman Jennifer Nelson spoke as well.
Brady spoke about this “very difficult situation,” referring to next year’s budget. She referenced the cuts of the past years that the university had taken. She explained about the need for UNCG to look for vertical cuts, not across-the-board cuts. She encouraged creative thinking and dialogue and she welcomed input and engagement.
“Students must remain our top priority,” she said. Enrollment, recruitment, retention and support for students are of very high importance.
Faculty at UNCG understand the importance of teaching and research, she said. “They understand the undergraduate experience is enriched for students who have an opportunity to study at a research university.”
In reference to the early percentage figure for Academic Affairs, she explained that the initial allocation of cuts she distributed to executive staff was not intended as a sleight to the faculty or a sign about her regard for the university’s academic mission. “And I sincerely regret if that has been the impact and I apologize for that.”
She continued. “What I was trying to do – and I think judging by the number of people in this room it has been successful – is capture the attention of the campus, generate a sense of urgency and fuel the kinds of discussions that have been occurring on the campus and will continue to occur.”
She has met with deans to solicit their views and share hers about the budget. She has met with the Board of Trustees. She hopes there’ll be an upcoming SGA meeting focused on the budget, where students can share with her their concerns and thoughts.
“Our top priority must be to invest in the academic quality of this university,” she said. She listed examples. “I am equally convinced we need to invest in the quality of student life, to ensure that we remain a university of choice.”
She referenced the student protesters at the Trustees meeting hours earlier. “We heard from a number of students this morning who expressed frustration that they do not believe that their concerns are being heard.” She wants to know students’ concerns and ideas.
The chancellor shared that since 2007-08, UNCG has experienced about $39 million in permanent cuts. But during that time UNCG has gained money due to enrollment growth and a rise in tuition fees. While other divisions of the university have lost ground compared to Academic Affairs, the new money has been distributed to support the academic mission of the university, she explained.
Academic Affairs represents about three-fourths of the overall budget of the university, she added.
By the end of the meeting, with a lot of voices heard, several themes had emerged. The need for the state to fulfill its historic commitment to higher education. The rising cost of education. Importance of consultation and dialogue. Athletics and the planned Rec Center were brought up more than once. Looking short-term while looking long-term. The advisory role of Faculty Senate. Morale. Looking for efficiencies. Thinking outside the box. Raising enrollment figures. Vertical cuts versus across-the-board cuts.
Ian Beatty, in looking at potential things for the university to cut, said, “Something big and visible needs to go. I don’t want it to be our students.”
By Mike Harris