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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

UVM Looks to Cut First $10M

Trustees hear plan; faculty ‘dismayed’

February 07, 2009

By Tim Johnson
Burlington Free Press Staff Writer

The sky is not falling, University of Vermont president Dan Fogel told UVM’s trustees Friday, but some in the audience were not so sure.

Fogel opened his customary report for the board’s quarterly meeting by discussing the university’s budget-cutting efforts, which he said would proceed in two phases — the first to be announced this month.

Seeking to allay fears of burgeoning class sizes, he said that under austerity measures recommended by the deans, “we can reduce spending while maintaining the element of academic quality represented by a good balance of smaller and larger classes.” For example, he said the number of classes with 100 or more students would grow “by only 15 sections of the nearly 3,000 sections on the planned roster of courses” next fall.

For trustees, the budget picture for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, was essentially the same as presented at their December meeting. Then, as now, Fogel’s administration was talking about closing a $28 million expected shortfall. Of that, $5 million would come from a net increase in revenue from 300 additional students next fall; $8 million from reserve funds; and $15 million from the general fund, which supports academic programs and where proposed cuts are generating campus angst.

Robyn Warhol-Down, a professor of English and president of the Faculty Senate, conveyed some of that angst in a report that described faculty as variously “dismayed” and “fearful” in the face of budget cuts and institutional restructuring — not because they’re afraid of change, she said, but because of “the rapidity of the process.” She suggested the board look at cutting its own catering bill for the quarterly meeting and for tonight’s retirement dinner for five trustees, considering that faculty pay for their own meals when a colleague’s retirement is feted.

The tab for the trustees’ Friday night dinner (to serve 106 people) was $5,600; and for the Friday morning meeting refreshments, $500, said Enrique Corredera, UVM spokesman. He said both bills were paid from a gift account used at the president’s discretion, not from the general fund.

Among the bigger fiscal uncertainties is the level of state support for higher education this year. UVM and the Vermont State Colleges have been planning their budgets in anticipation of cuts in state aid — but the size of those cuts is still unclear, while Gov. Douglas has recommended a boost in higher-education funding. With state-aid prospects in abeyance, Fogel said UVM would proceed with $10 million in cuts, to be announced by month’s end, and reserve till later decisions on whether more will be needed. Trustees will approve the budget in May.

During that first budget-cutting phase, Fogel said, teaching positions “primarily affected will be the vacant faculty and staff positions that have been recommended for unfunding.” Staff layoffs, he said, would likely be “several dozen.”

Faculty critics said that not filling tenure-track vacancies — quite apart from other reductions in part-time teaching staff — would still have a major impact. Five vacancies in the College of Nursing, for example, would lead to a sharp reduction in the size of the undergraduate entering class. Downstairs from the trustees’ meeting, in the atrium of the Davis Center, student protesters staged a noontime rally, chanting slogans (“They say cutback, we say fight back”) that are becoming familiar on campus these days.

“We’re not going to rest for a minute,” said senior Max Tracy, who said he was not appeased by Fogel’s comments on class size or educational quality.

Meanwhile, trustees looked at a new priority list of capital projects. On the fast track is a renovation of McAuley Hall, a former dorm on the Trinity campus that will be refurbished, with a dining hall, in time to house 150 to 200 of the new students coming in the fall. The estimated cost, about $4 million, would be paid largely from student fees and reserve funds. (Under the new fiscal austerity regime, no bonding or borrowing can be undertaken for any new projects. A proposed athletic arena, which would have to be funded almost entirely by private or government sources, is far down the pecking order, 16th of 19 ranked projects.

Trustees also heard a recommendation that room and board fees be raised 5.4 percent next year, and looked at comparative charts on tuition (a new tuition rate will be set in May; a 6 percent increase is expected). Compared to peer public institutions, UVM’s tuition and fees ($12,844 for in-staters) are second only to those at Penn State University ($13,706), but trustees drew some solace from figures showing that the net cost of a UVM education — after financial aid lessens the sticker price — is lower than that for many peers.

Contact Tim Johnson at 660-1808 or