Meeting Budgetary Challenges

To the Saint Mary's College Community,

In his message of January 25, 2010, Brother President Ronald Gallagher outlined the 2010-11 budget assumptions approved during the Board of Trustees' January meeting. The trustees reviewed powerful indications that colleges and universities must rethink their reliance on rising tuition and fees to sustain growth. Tuition and fees have been growing faster than median family income for decades, and graduates and their families have been saddled with increasing debt. Our students need more financial aid in order to come to Saint Mary's, and net tuition revenue per student, after growing rapidly during the housing boom, has returned to 2005 levels and will likely remain flat. In sum, our past strategies of growth through tuition revenue, regardless of whether from enrolling more students or raising tuition, are simply no longer viable. The changes we make will have to be more dramatic than slight decreases in non-salary expenditures or freezing vacant positions. Our foremost challenges are in both achieving necessary budget reductions, and in advancing an academic strategic plan that will help guide budget priorities and ensure greater academic competitiveness and distinction in the future.

Saint Mary's will continue -- and reinvigorate -- efforts to recruit increased numbers of qualified students and to enhance our endowment. In the short term, nevertheless, significant budget reductions will have to come from areas under the direction of the provost, because these areas encompass the bulk of expenditures for the College. Of the amounts cited by the president ($1.8 million in the employee salary pool and $300,000 in non-salary expenses), Academic Affairs' proportions constitute $1.15 million in salary pool and $136,000 in non-salary reductions for the 2010-11 fiscal year. An additional $300,000 or more in reductions will be required to sustain the integrity of the faculty salary scale and continue limited staff promotions, goals that we met last year.

I have accepted the recommendation from academic administrators and faculty leaders to combine salary pool reductions and non-salary expense reductions into a single Academic Affairs savings target of nearly $1.6 million. The Academic Affairs Budget Committee, constituted last fall, will offer key advice on the means to achieve this target. The committee is comprised of Joel Burley (Faculty Welfare Committee), Steve Cortright (Vice-Chair, Senate), Larisa Genin (Interim Dean, SEBA), Tomas Gomez (Faculty Welfare Committee and Senate), Robert Henderson (Academic Affairs Business Operations), Tom Poundstone (Chair, Senate), Chris Sindt (Chair, Graduate Council), Nancy Sorenson (Dean, KSOE), Frances Sweeney (Vice Provost, Undergraduate Academics), Roy Wensley (Interim Dean, SOS), and Steve Woolpert (Dean, SOLA). We hope to reduce as much as we can in operating expenses to minimize the impact on personnel when possible. Anticipated retirements, limited hiring, consolidation of services and improved business processes will provide some budget relief, but long-term viability will demand more profound changes.

Several considerations guide our discussions. First, although further reduction in the faculty salary pool is inevitable, we cannot continue to provide the breadth of courses and depth of expertise necessary without retaining some of our adjunct faculty and lecturers. Second, we may have to reconsider average class size, the variation in compensation based on contact hours per course and the conditions for granting course reassignments, which have proliferated beyond our ability to support them. Finally, while everything may be "on the table," many options cannot be taken simultaneously. For instance, a return to the seven-course teaching load would require eliminating all contingent faculty and reducing many course offerings that keep academic programs viable and attractive, or offering more sections of limited offerings than we have the students to fill. We can save by increasing class size and reducing the number of course offerings, but only to the extent that students still have the courses available to complete their degree requirements in a timely manner. And as we look at ways to reduce staff costs, the role of faculty in serving students will need to increase.

I have asked deans to work with department chairs and faculty in the coming weeks to identify areas of targeted reductions. At the same time, I encourage conversation with Budget Committee members and attendance at regular Senate meetings where these challenges will be discussed. I also invite comments on the evolving academic strategic plan, which affirms our priorities as we move ahead. As indicated in an e-mail sent to faculty and staff, the introduction to an Academic Blueprint can be found on my webpage. Members of the Academic Blueprint Task Force are listed there as well, and comments can be directed to any of them individually, or as part of the online IdeaJam discussion. We have already received thoughtful and valuable suggestions and look forward to recommendations regarding the tactics by which we might advance our strategic directions and goals. Open meetings will be held on Wednesday, March 24, 12:45 to 2 p.m., Wednesday, April 14, 12:45 to 2 p.m., and Thursday, April 15, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (locations TBD). All sessions will be open to faculty, staff and students.

We are blessed to have many talented and dedicated professionals within the Saint Mary's College community. I am confident that we will find ways to consolidate and restructure services, meet the needs of students and enhance our distinctiveness as a Catholic, Lasallian and liberal arts college.


Beth Dobkin