Budgetary woes ripple across campus


Photo credit: Dongyoung Won

Whether they were administered properly or not, recent allocations of the academic affairs budget have created a negative ripple effect among some departments on campus.

The latest allocations of the 2015-2016 academic affairs budget released to university leaders last October left the Meriam Library and departments in the College of Communication and Education without sufficient funding to operate as they have previously in recent semesters, multiple sources said.

Since then, budget stewards have given additional resources to departments with shortages, said Joe Crotts, head of library government documents and long-time academic senator.

“As of this minute, there are no plans to reduce library hours for spring semester,” Crotts wrote in an email on Jan. 21, overriding his previously gloomy forecast.

The library department, however, is operating on “thin ice,” he said.

Angela Trethewey, dean of the College of Communication and Education, said the CME doesn’t know exactly where its budget stands because she doesn’t have “all the information yet.”

“I think we’re getting another allocation,” Trethewey said. “If we get another allocation — and I believe that’s forthcoming — we’re going to look about how we did last year.”

The dean is working with administrators who oversee the academic affairs budget to ensure they meet the demands of students and be good fiscal stewards, she said.

Three of six department chairs in the CME said their programs faced budget pitfalls. Two could not be reached for comment. The sixth, Deborah Summers, director for the School of Education, said she didn’t have “enough definitive responses” to analyze and answer budget questions.

The way Chico State calculated allocations changed last year.

“There was agreement in July 2015 among the deans that the previously used allocation model was not serving all colleges equally, so we collectively agreed to take a different approach,” said Susan Elrod, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

The Office of the Provost works with Lorraine Hoffman, vice president for Business and Finance, and others to produce the campus budget.

Elrod, who responded by email because she was traveling, gave the reasoning behind the new approach in her email and in presentations to the campus community in early December 2015.

Her presentations underscored how personnel costs have increased this academic year by more than $5 million from the 2014-2015 academic year, which is why some sensed there were budget cuts. This negated the fact that the spring budget increased $5.1 million from the year before.

The initial allocations were also supplemented by $3 million from Chico State’s reserves.

In the new model adjunct faculty and student employees are categorized as operating expenses, a category which includes offices supplies, assessment support and “other consumables.”

“Normally, this would not be how we would divide the expenses, but this was an unusual year,” the provost said. “In the future, I don’t anticipate that this will be the case.”

Elrod said her team figured the new allocations model would work better than the previous one.

The new model, however, did not work better for Jennifer Meadows, department chair for Communication Design. Meadows said her department currently has a deficit of $10,000, a major setback for a small program, despite receiving additional funding since October.

“I understand that it’s important to fiscally manage your budget well,” she said adding, “it’s really hard to do long-term planning when you don’t know what’s coming.”

The CME is somewhat unusual as its fiscal infrastructure is more decentralized than other colleges, whose oversight is mostly controlled by deans.

Meadows, who is an officer in the Academic Senate, said in the Dec. 10 senate meeting that the budget allocations arrived late last semester. She has since corrected the record, explaining they had not — it was the new model that left her department reeling.

It is not unusual for the spring budget allocations to be released in October.

Meadows also said she was not aware of the agreement among deans and the provost to switch models.

Trenten Bilodeaux, a student employee at the Meriam Library, heard rumors that students may have their hours cut due to the latest budget. Photo credit: Gabriel Sandoval
Trenten Bilodeaux, a student employee at the Meriam Library, heard rumors that students may have their hours cut due to the latest budget. Photo credit: Gabriel Sandoval

The other CME departments hit by budgetary woes were kinesiology and journalism.

Josh Trout, chair for the department of kinesiology, said in an email budget cuts for his department will affect its 2016-2017 year, “where we will likely be trimming student-assistant hours and student advising hours.”

Trouts could not be reached for further comment.

Susan Wiesinger, chair for the department of journalism, does not grant interviews to The Orion, but did acknowledge the journalism department’s cut.

Trethewey said the funds the CME has to offer classes is actually not much different from past years. Her big worry is not in the CME but with the long-term sustainability of the entire education enterprise in California because state appropriations have “diminished.”

“I don’t know if it will ever come back to the levels it was before the recession,” she said.

Others are thinking along those lines, too.

Trenten Bilodeaux is a student employee who has worked at Meriam Library since 2013. He said he hasn’t heard any facts regarding budget cuts, only rumors — like the hours students work could be cut. Naturally, he has questions.

“I want to know where all the money went,” he said.

The University Budget Committee is holding a public meeting on Feb. 5 in Colusa Hall, room 100A. It starts at 8:30 a.m. — and will likely address Bilodeaux’s question.

Gabriel Sandoval can be reached at [email protected] or @GLuisSandoval on Twitter.