Admissions increases and construction project cuts among options for colleges
Senior Staff Writer
Since the University Board of Trustees called for budget cuts in March as a result of losses to the endowment and a down economy, each college is now working to finalize its 2003-04 budget and determine the effects of a 5 percent cut to academic and student life expenditures mandated by the Board.
Although the cut represents only a small portion of the University's estimated $600 million in annual expenses, it's significant at Notre Dame where the Board has not curtailed spending in nearly two decades.
Coupled with a 6.5 percent tuition increase, which will bring 2003-04 tuition and room and board costs to $34,100, University budget cuts could affect student life — though University officials said they aim to avoid changes that would have a direct impact on students, especially student finances.
"There's been a rigorous attempt to hold down tuition increases with wise decision making in the budget," said Matt Storin, University spokesman. "We want to arrive at a budget figure that will do the least damage to our University missions."
Storin said preserving financial aid at its current levels is among the University's highest priorities. But the endowment, which provides financial aid for students, ranks 18th among U.S. colleges and universities and is the largest at any Catholic institution, dropped $200 million last year.
"The budget cuts are not entirely based on the endowment drop, there have been additional rising costs … but the economy certainly affects things on the revenue side adversely," said Storin.
More than half of Notre Dame's operating budget revenues and roughly 81 percent of the educational and general revenues come from tuition and fees, according to the strategic plan, thus even a small percentage increase in tuition or in the number of enrolled students assists with budgeting — and in 2003 the University plans to attempt both.
Notre Dame plans to admit 25 more students, making 1,960 the target size for the class of 2007.
Eileen Kolman, dean of First Year Studies, said her office will plan for 1,980 students, however, she also questioned Notre Dame's continued ability to attract a surplus of students during an economic downturn.
"I think the economy is in a bad way and Notre Dame is expensive — so we may not see the confirmation rate of past years again," Kolman said, in reference to the class of 2005 enrollment swell of over 2,000 students.
First Year Studies was also asked to make a 5 percent budget cut, but Kolman said that could be accomplished through fewer summer mailings and relying more on Internet communication, without adversely affecting students.
According to Ava Preacher, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Letters, Arts and Letters will increase the number of transfer students it admits and decrease the number of student leaves of absence it grants, a scenario she believes will be problematic.
Preacher said Arts and Letters typically admits 60 to 70 sophomore and junior transfer students per year, but for 2003-04 it has been asked to admit 90 students.
"It means we'll have to look at compromising quality," said Preacher. "With 90 students accepted you may actually be taking students who won't fare well in the classrooms here."
Arts and Letters will also allow only 16 leaves of absence in 2003-04, roughly eight per semester, after allowing up to 40 this year. This cut could hinder study abroad opportunities for students who want to take a leave of absence to travel through programs outside of Notre Dame's International Studies and London Program offerings and want to receive credit for their time away.
Preacher said her office would now prioritize leave request based upon whether applicants had already had an abroad experience and if they were interested in participating in programs where Notre Dame had no existing offering, such as Africa.
Preacher said increasing enrollment through the combination of larger incoming classes, more transfer students and fewer leaves of absence could increase class size, limit course availability, or even risk students' ability to graduate in the expected four to five years with a semester abroad and mounting scheduling conflicts.
The College of Science and the College of Business typically offer larger classes and encounter fewer scheduling dilemmas, but nonetheless find themselves with contrasting budget issues.
According to accounting professor Bill Nichols, the Mendoza College of Business will have little trouble making their required budget cuts for 2003 by reducing their publications, entertainment and alumni relations budgets.
"We approached the budget cut with the objective to retain faculty slots, maintain course offerings and maintain funding for faculty research," Nichols said.
These goals are similar to those set by the College of Science, but the College of Business results are enviable for Marvin Miller, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Miller said his department likewise prioritized faculty retention and therefore allowed for a 1.5 percent increase in faculty salaries to "keep morale up."
"To cut faculty and staff salaries would be imprudent," said Miller. "The worst thing we could do is lose faculty to competing academics or industry. The last thing we want to do is make it attractive for them to leave."
But, according to Miller, 90 percent of the Chemistry and Biochemistry budget is salaries, thus forcing its supply budget to take a 30 to 35 percent cut to meet next year's University budget requirements. He said there has been double digit inflation in the cost of scientific supplies, but his department budget has not increased in five years.
"Teaching science is relatively expensive," said Miller. "My biggest fear is that come February or March of next year, we'll walk into the labs and have to tell the students, `Sorry, we're out of supplies.' Needless to say we'll be frustrated in our teaching efforts without supplies."
Various campus construction projects have also been delayed or halted as a result of budget restraints, Jim Lyphout, vice president for business operations, told The Observer in April. Delayed projects include a new science and learning building to be built north of the Joyce Center for $70 million, a new post office and security building near the Stepan Center, and improvements to the Loftus Center. Projects that were completed or are still on schedule despite cuts include the Marie P. DeBartolo Center for Performing Arts, the Stepan Chemistry Hall, O'Shaughnessy Hall renovations and Hesburgh Library renovations.
Preacher said an additional faculty concern related to building projects is parking as teachers will for the first time be charged for parking beginning in the fall of 2004.
"The University is tightening the budget and in many ways they've needed to do it," said Preacher. "Every now and then it seems the University should cut back on certain luxuries. You look at the grounds and wonder when they lay down and tear up sidewalks repeatedly. Money seems to flow to some places more than others."
All News Stories for Friday, July 11, 2003