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Union Fears Academic Offerings Could Narrow Despite Lower Budget Cuts

By Meghan Brink | May 6, 2021

The union said that while it welcomes the lower than expected cuts announced by the university, it is concerned that the metric system by which cuts will be made and statements by the president indicate the range of academic disciplines available to students will narrow.

In an address last week, President Havidán Rodríguez said that higher than anticipated state and federal aid for the 2021-2022 university budget means that projected cuts to Academic Affairs would be lowered to $8 million, which will be instituted over the course of four years. That is a reduction from earlier projections of an immediate 15 percent cut.

“We are glad the President has chosen, in our mind, a more reasonable path forward rather than some of the ideas that had been floated earlier that were a bit dramatic,” said United University Professions Vice President Paul Stasi.

Stasi was referring to the 2021-2022 budget, which, according to Rodríguez, will not cause any layoffs, retrenchments, or program closures.

However, despite the improved financial outlook, Stasi said the union remains concerned that the university is moving toward an ideology that supports some disciplines over others that runs counter to the idea of a university education offering students breadth and depth across disciplines.

In particular, the union opposes the system of budget metrics that will determine how the $8 million in cuts is distributed across the various colleges in Academic Affairs. The metric system ranks colleges and departments by enrollment, diversity, retention, research excellence, public engagement, diversity and inclusion, and revenue generation numbers.

Stasi said the union fears these metrics will harm departments that inherently fare worse in these areas. “The sciences get large grants and the humanities and arts don’t. But the sciences are enormously expensive to run, whereas I am pretty cheap. All I need is a laptop and access to a library,” said Stasi, referring to his own department of English.

He also added that the union “resists the idea of departments against each other.”

Stasi highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary education and the strengths he sees it brings within the classroom.

“It's better when we all support each other,” he said.I do better when my students are able to take classes in women's studies, because that means they are bringing new kind of knowledge in as an experience in my class.”

During last week’s address the president identified Emergency Preparedness, Climate Science, and Health Sciences as “Future Facing” programs instrumental to the university’s goal of moving toward “our unifying institutional vision: to be the nation’s leading diverse public research university.”

Stasi said that although these programs are extremely important to invest in, it “pretty obviously suggests the other programs are not future facing,” he said. “We are very pleased where the budget numbers seem to be going, not so pleased that the president has decided that three colleges on campus are what he calls ‘Future Facing.’”

Stasi said he is also concerned that cuts to Academic Affairs will be achieved through attrition of faculty and staff. The non-rehiring of faculty after retirements and resignations will over time lead to fewer academic offerings in departments, he added.

“The university has aspirations to be a top public research university … and there is not a single respected Research 1 one university that only has a handful of disciplines, they have the range of disciplines to offer to their students,” said Stasi. “We really hope that the President avoids the kind of cuts from some colleges to support other colleges.”


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