Potential budget cuts of up to $4.5 million at Fort Lewis College will not eliminate majors or layoff tenured or tenure-track professors, President Dene Thomas said Friday at a Board of Trustees meeting, but worries emerged that following that path only postpones tougher cuts.
“At the risk of being the least-popular faculty member at Fort Lewis College,” said Professor Ryan Haaland, chairman of the Physics and Engineering Department, “I think we have to face difficult decisions.”
Haaland, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, suggested a wiser course of action might be a difficult examination of underperforming programs offered at the college that fail to attract enough students to justify their expense.
By holding faculty harmless, Haaland said the budget trimming effort would mean FLC would “keep some programs that “are not working.”
Declining enrollment has led to a bleak outlook for the school, and the now-rejected course of tenured faculty layoffs was but one avenue examined in a budget review to deal with the looming lack of funds for the 2018-19 academic year.
Enrollment for the fall semester came in at 3,356 – 239 students shy of the previous year. Fall 2016 enrollment was 3,595, which at that time was the lowest enrollment in more than a decade.
During the recession in 2009, fall enrollment was 3,685.
“I think, in fact, we have been proactive,” Thomas said of the study to recommend $4.5 million in potential cuts, about 8.2 percent of the school’s general fund. “We’ve had an open process, a shared governmental process.”
By holding tenured and tenure-track professors free from cuts, the focus of any potential layoffs will now fall on administrators, staff members, adjunct professors and lecturers.
“There will be changes,” Thomas said. “I’m not in a position to discuss the details now. We are in negotiations.”
Thomas said the college has emphasized recruitment of new students and will continue to look at putting more resources into admissions and recruiting to turn around problems with lagging enrollment.
“We’re making the cuts, and that’s a burden,” she said. “And it makes people anxious and nervous.” But she said the school is going forward with its efforts to enhance recruitment and to increase efforts at marketing and communication in an effort to reverse enrollment declines.
At a Board of Trustee committee meeting Thursday, Michael Valdez, associate professor of management and the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees, said “We don’t want to make cuts then have to make them again a year or two later. Are we kicking the can down the street? And will cuts become a reoccurring challenge.”
He added: “We have to look at who we are as an institution and what our core competencies are.”
FLC’s Budget Committee began examining proposals to trim $4.5 million in December 2017 in an effort head off a potential revenue shortfall for the 2018-19 academic year.
Several faculty members have been participating in the 17-member Budget Committee discussions on cuts, but faculty members are under a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from discussing details of the talks.
Dustin Fink, president of FLC’s student government, also expressed concerns with the choice to protect tenured and tenure-track faculty in any budget cuts.
He noted the faculty-to-student ratio at Fort Lewis is down to 1-to-11, and he asked Steve Schwartz, vice president of finance and administration, if that would be sustainable for the long term. Schwartz acknowledge a ratio that low could not be sustained long-term.
“I appreciate Mr. Haaland’s comments,” he said. “I am concerned the current budgetary plan is detrimental to FLC.”
He noted the ratio of employees who give students advice on career paths and job opportunities is 1 to 1,580, and with tenured faculty protected, cuts will have to come from areas such as career services.
Several factors that will determine what the final budget outlook is for the 2018-19 academic year have yet to be determined, including final funding from the state for higher education, the amount of tuition increase FLC will be allowed to charge, and the final enrollment figures.
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Nancy Cardona, associate professor of English, said she appreciated the protection granted tenured and tenure-track professors, and added that the school is involved in a “delicate balancing act.”
“We (faculty) are not the only ones who contribute,” she said.
The Faculty Senate has discussed accepting a temporary salary reduction for tenured and tenure-track professors as another option that might be feasible in reducing pain felt by other employees on campus, Valdez said.
“There is a sense of growing urgency about what the plan moving forward is going to be,” she said.