State budget cuts to impact UT Martin
By Sabrina Bates, Chief Staff Writer, and Sara Reid, Staff Writer
Posted: Friday, December 12, 2008 9:29 am
The budget crisis that has hit the state of Tennessee has trickled down to impact higher education as deans met with faculty members on the University of Tennessee at Martin campus on Thursday for a series of emotionally charged informative sessions.
Deans from each of the five colleges on UTM’s campus were working last week to determine the best ways to trim down the university’s budget at the request of Gov. Phil Bredesen.
The governor announced state sales tax revenues had diminished significantly this year and as a result, programs are slated to lose money, including higher education.
“We have proposed that we are going to protect people and programs. We have done that and no one in this college is losing a job any time soon,” Dr. David Coffey, interim dean for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, said to the crowd of anxious faculty members on Thursday afternoon.
Coffey announced the deans of each college on campus were charged with creating proposals that would help save budget money for the university. Initially, Coffey reported, a proposal was placed before the deans to eliminate a college on campus.
“Taking a college just didn’t make sense. That wasn’t going to get us where we needed to go and it would only eliminate two positions,” Coffey said.
As he described how a restructuring would impact the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Coffey stressed that other colleges on the campus were having a similar conversation.
He informed faculty members that departments would move into other colleges while some departments would be combined to distribute them “more equitably” throughout the university.
“Any time you break up a family, it’s not pleasant. But we feel very strong about this proposal,” Coffey said, adding the “restructuring” was just that — a proposal.
Faculty members became emotional when Coffey announced part of the proposal would be to move the Department of Communications to the College of Business and Global Affairs.
“The College of Business comes out ahead on this decision. What was once perhaps the weakest college on campus will become the strongest now,” Coffey commented.
Communications Prof. Teresa Collard asked what were the logical arguments for moving the department of communications out of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.
“It came down to numbers. We needed to bulk up that college and this decision made sense in terms of majors for that college because of the Public Relations concentration. Some things were more of a fit for that college,” Coffey answered.
Coffey added by making the move to a different college on campus, the Department of Communications would have more resources to grow.
“This is right now, a proposal. We will take written suggestions through Dec. 12 and meet again to finalize a plan. We need to do this as soon as we can because these changes would have to be in place by July 1, 2009. The part of the reality is the bottom line. This was a way to do it without people losing jobs, programs and majors did not get cut,” Dr. Lynn Alexander, Interim Dean for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, reiterated Coffey’s comments to faculty members.
“There will be a lot of concerns. We have agonized over this decision,” Coffey added.
“I don’t want what we say to diminish how difficult this was for you two. I applaud you for the spirit of trying to save jobs,” Dr. Robert Nanney, communications professor, commented during the meeting.
Ultimately, the changes would eliminate a little more than $200,000 from the university’s budget within the first year of implementation. The restructuring would move or eliminate at least 30 faculty positions.
Coffey said with a large number of secretaries looking to retire this summer, secretaries displaced by the restructuring would have a chance to move into the slots of the retiring personnel.
“We don’t lose people. We don’t lose programs. We maintain academic integrity and strengthen our position,” Coffey added.
Similar staff meetings occurred Thursday afternoon on campus announcing the idea to “restructure” academic affairs at the university.
Dr. Mary Lee Hall, Dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, faced a classroom full of worried, curious and confused faces in Gooch Hall this past Thursday afternoon and combated the negative feelings swirling around in the room with an air of confidence and a mindset of motivation.
“Our goal is to preserve positions as much as possible,” she emphasized.
With the University of Tennessee at Martin’s council of deans’ recent proposal of reducing the number of colleges, Hall emphasized the great need to keep the focus on preserving the culture on campus as it “connects the colleges.”
“Right now, we’re down to bare bones, but we can’t really be. We have to keep the students,” she remarked.
The 15 percent cut to the budget for the ‘09-’10 academic year will take effect on July 1, 2009. The proposal to make changes in the academic colleges stemmed from a decision made by the Board of Deans at UT Martin.
“This will really equalize the faculty better. The logistics of this have not been dealt with yet, but they will be dealt with in the spring semester. The proposal saves about $207,000 long-term annually. It’s more efficient to combine than erase the colleges,” Hall explained.
“The task force brought the recommendation to the chancellor who took it to the staff and then it was divvied out to whatever area was involved. It went to the dean’s council with limited time and here we are at 4 p.m. ready to discuss the proposal.”
Hall reiterated Chancellor Tom Rakes’ comment that nothing was a done deal. When asked to describe a worst-case scenario, Hall admitted, “start cutting programs and laying off people.”
“The UT system covers a lot of territory. At least we’re trying to do something. We’re going to come out of this,” Hall said. “The main thing is are you doing things that make sense and are logical and long term? I like to think we are looking at long term.”
In answering questions relating to possibly capping enrollment and cutting adjunct professors, Hall admitted, “Capping enrollment has been brought up, but it doesn’t go anywhere for now. Our budget for adjuncts for spring is considerably reduced, but we’re monitoring it closely.”
“Your job is to handle the curriculum and teach,” she stressed. “You had a chance for feedback on this so you can’t say you had not a chance to speak up. A decision will be made before the holidays. Florida is already laying off people. This is minor compared to what it could be.”
When asked what the greatest impact to the students will be, Hall replied, “The majors will not be eliminated. The departments might just be located in different colleges.”
Hall reminded the faculty and staff that now is the time for advocation, the time to contact legislators.
“K-12 is not getting cuts. The governor himself said, ’It’s bleed for you,’ referring to higher education,” she said.
These changes come at a time of uncertainty as Bredesen warned of a possible 15 percent budget cut, in turn leaving a $3 to $4.6 million decrease in state funding.
As a result of the faculty meetings, proposed changes at the UTM campus include:
• Eliminating the Department of Geology, Geography and Physics and moving Geosciences to the renamed Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Geosciences. The Department of Engineering would gain Physics courses and faculty members.
• Moving Political Science from the College of Business back to the College of Humanities and Fine Arts under the Department of History.
• The Office of University Studies, including the B.U.S. (Bachelor of University Studies) degree will fall under the umbrella of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences.
• The Department of Modern Foreign Languages will be merged with the English Department to make a new Department of Languages and Literature.
While last week’s announcements focused on academic affairs within the university, UTM University Relations Director Bud Grimes said UT athletics are also under consideration for budget cuts.
The proposals will be finalized later this month as Rakes reviews the ideas for academic restructuring.