WCU Endures Budget Cuts to Save Money

Since January, Western Carolina University has seen a series of cutbacks due to possible budget reductions. The state has asked several universities to establish a plan for possible 3, 5 and 7 percent reductions in funding for the 2009-2010 year.

Western administrators have chosen to plan for more severe cuts rather than the ones originally suggested by the state. Instead, they have created a budget based on an 8 percent funding reduction, which is equal to the loss of $7.4 million, according to the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, Chuck Wooten.

Planning for such a loss resulted in several cutbacks, such as eliminating staff positions, suspending both summer and academic programs, and reducing amounts of supplies and utilities as means to reduce financial costs.

Chancellor John Bardo has explained that almost half of Western’s budget is made up of State Appropriations, which is also the only part of Western’s budget that is affected by the reduction. Consequently, almost half of Western’s budget is being decreased.

WCU has already revealed plans to cut 92 positions, which include the probable lay-off of 32 faculty members.

So far, three major campus programs have been considered for elimination. These include the Institute for the Economy and the Future, the clinical laboratory sciences program, and the Reading Center.

Among the dismissed faculty members so far is the former director of the WCU Reading Center, Barbara Bell. Bell has been a leader to many future elementary and middle school teachers for 17 years. Her lay off has instigated hundreds of letters and petitions requesting to save the center as well as Bell’s job as director.

“Unfortunately Budget cuts are a fact of life,” said Department of Stage and Screen Visiting Lecturer, Peter Savage. “Faculty positions are the easiest way for an institution to eliminate spending because there is a large chuck of money that can be quickly eliminated. But it is not just faculty that is hurting. I feel very fortunate to have a job in this economy.”

Savage, who was in jeopardy of losing his job at Western Carolina because he was teaching on a one year contract that was set to expire this summer and not be renewed, had students rally in his favor. Several students opposed the decision to dismiss Savage by organizing a facebook group which overtime accumulated almost 400 members. Through the facebook page, people were given instructions to write letters to appropriate people on Savage’s behalf. The positivity shown in the letters was possible the strongest factor that may have raised the eyebrows of the administration.

“I am pleased to say that the Provost has verbally recognized the contributions of the students as being a major factor in his decision to adjust funds to keep my position,” said Savage. “I will be returning in the fall but still on a one year contract. I hope that the economy will improve in the ext year and we won’t have to go through this again.”

Not only have staff positions been affected at WCU, but also the availability of materials throughout the university has shrunk considerably. Western’s Department of Music has recently had to forfeit the use of excess paper, due to the sudden expense charge of 4 cents per page.

According to Bardo, officials at WCU are trying to find ways to reduce costs that will have a minimum impact on faculty, staff, and services. Bardo stated “We have targeted budget cuts for less damage, trying to maintain the quality of the student experience as much as possible.”

Means of Travel has also become an issue with the university. According to Bardo and the budget reduction plan, “we must eliminate all travel that is not required to further the institutional mission.” As a result of this plan, funding was not provided to Cheerleaders, the Dance Team, or the Pep Band, for example, to attend the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament. Also, the Summer Commencement was suspended, which saved the university between $15,000-$20,000.

“No one took any joy in the process we have gone through,” said Bardo in reference to the budget cuts. “We certainly understand that these steps will affect a number of our students and their families. It is simply a sign of our turbulent economic times.”

In the department of Administrations and Finance, several reductions have been made as a means to reduce costs. 17 positions have been abolished, while the student and non-student wages have been substantially reduced. Supplies in this division will be reduced by $312,961 and utilities will be decreased by $365,143.

“The outcome of all this should be that we try to minimize the pain of the campus,” Bardo said. “We try to maintain quality and enhance quality wherever possible. We try to become more effective. We try to become more efficient. We try to become more strategic as we implement for the future.”