Academic Affairs, the University’s biggest sector, could see its $68 million annual allocation cut by up to eight percent if potential budget cuts are implemented. Impacts would be spread across departments, likely eliminating certain course offerings and adjunct faculty positions.
Provost Perry Brown stressed that exact numbers aren’t known yet but he’s presented department heads with scenarios representing overall sector cuts at increments of two, four and eight percent. Funding to specific programs is prioritized by factors like enrollment trends or course loads and allotted in different ratios.
Brown said he’s optimistic cutbacks will be at the low end of the spectrum, but projections across campus point otherwise.
College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean Stephen Kalm said he’s been asked to plan to cut 6.1 percent from his school’s budget. David Forbes, former dean of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, said he expects to lose $300,000 in base funding, while dean of the School of Law Irma Russell said she’s seen a projected 7.5 percent reduction to her budget.
Each of these figures matches the scenario of an eight percent overall reduction in academic affairs funding.
Should these cuts take effect, the School of Business and Administration plans to eliminate 25-30 sections of elective courses next year, and slash six or seven adjunct faculty positions, Dean Larry Gianchetta said.
Class sizes may grow, Gianchetta said, but his department and others across campus are working to minimize the impacts as much as possible on students.
“You might not get that one elective,” he said, “but if you’re up to the task you’ll graduate on time.”
Fulfilling such requirements must be taken into account when making cuts, said Kalm, whose college is responsible for 17 percent of the general education classes on campus.
“I try to keep in mind all programs,” Kalm said. “We do feel responsibility for contribution to gen eds; hopefully we can continue meeting the school’s direction.”
The College of Arts and Sciences, UM’s largest academic department, will feel the biggest hit by volume.
About $1.5 million, or 6.5 percent of the college’s budget would be axed if academic affairs were cut by 8 percent.
Dean of the CAS Christopher Comer wouldn’t give specifics, but said operational funds and extra perks such as trips or conferences available to students will be scarce.
“That additional source of money,” he said, “which is really helpful to creating a positive environment, just won’t be there.”
Cuts have to made somewhere, Gianchetta said, and as veteran of both the business and university worlds, he’s no stranger to austerity measures.
“When businesses are in downturn, your first thought is don’t affect the mission. The University has a lot of missions but none are higher than education.”
But Gianchetta admitted cuts to academics could invoke serious concern down the line.
“If you really went big time with this,” he said, “it could affect accreditation.”
Considering a drop in enrollment initially sparked the cutbacks, this would be a slippery slope.
UM’s General Fund, comprised of state contributions and tuition revenue, took a serious hit when enrollment fell by nearly 700 students in fall 2012.
“Seven hundred students may not sound like much but in revenue that’s huge” said Gianchetta.
He said UM’s bad publicity of late is partly responsible for the drop off, but other factors include low Montana high-school graduation rates.
Whatever the problem, if enrollment rates don’t bounce back, cuts may continue.
One hope for UM’s academic programs could rely in third party donations.
In general these funds go toward student scholarships, experiential education opportunities, and facilities improvement, all of which could serve to attract more students.
Skaggs Hall as an example. His department received a $28 million building, in which only $5 million came from state funding.
Forbes said there are dedicated donors out there who continue to support UM in tough times.
Looking across campus from his third floor corner office, Forbes remained optimistic.
“It’s a serious matter,” he said. “But I’m not ready to jump out the window yet.”
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