Stimulus tempers budget cuts

By Michael McFall, Asst. News Editor

Michael McFall
Asst. News Editor

The U’s academics were spared a devastating budget cut during the Utah legislative session.

Administrators and students pleaded for lawmakers to show mercy, and in January, state legislators lowered the initially proposed budget cut of 19 percent down to 17.5 percent. Then, the $23 million stimulus package shrunk it further to a tamer 9 percent, ultimately translating to a loss of $24 million in state funding for next year.

The upside

The U higher-ups also plan on levying the majority of the lost funding on administration, such as human resources and grounds, to spare academics the brunt of the cuts, said Paul Brinkman, associate vice president for budget and planning.

“We dodged a very large bullet, and we appreciate any help we got from any side, including the students,” Brinkman said. Before the U was saved from harsher cuts, Brinkman and fellow administrators were talking about salary reductions, layoffs and furloughs, temporary leave without pay. They would have also put a hold on remodeling projects. Thankfully, not every college has to make those choices, Brinkman said.

Jason Fila, a senior in health science, said he’s glad the administration is taking a hit before students do.

“Some of those are pretty drastic actions to take,” he said. “People would have lost their jobs.”

Some still will.

The downside

Nine percent is still a tough cut to handle, said Kim Wirthlin, U vice president of government relations.

The goal is to keep the impact from hurting students’ classes and scholarships, so most colleges are denying salary increases and scrapping their plans to hire new faculty. Even though faculty and staff are meant to take the majority of the blow, students will be affected to some extent, depending on the department or college.

The colleges of business, architecture and planning, medicine, engineering, nursing, pharmacy and law are increasing their tuition to offset any effect the cuts would have on their students. The School of Medicine will reduce next year’s admissible class size, but only because Medicaid cut its funding by 10 percent this year, said Dana Carroll, chairman of the biochemistry department.

The other colleges that can’t apply differential tuition, or don’t have nearly as much federal grant funding, aren’t as lucky.

The department of political science might increase tuition for its graduate programs. The College of Humanities will have to cancel classes or programs that have low student enrollment and potentially shrink its faculty size by up to 10 percent.

Students interested in summer courses might be out of luck. Generally, the courses have sparse enrollment compared to other semesters and are in danger of being cut, said Leslie Francis, chairwoman of the department of philosophy.

“There’s a great concern for our students,” said Heidi Camp, assistant dean to the College of Humanities. “There’s an increased enrollment at the same time as decreased resources.”

The future

The nightmare that could have been this year, Brinkman’s “large bullet,” isn’t likely to miss next year. The $23 million from the stimulus package won’t reappear in 2010, when the full cut of 17 percent is expected to be in place, said Marc Bodson, chairman of the electrical and computer engineering department.

“There will be nothing to save us,” he said.

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