A Message from the President
January 19, 2011 - Campus Update
Welcome back from what I hope was a restful and enjoyable holiday break.
Late in the fall semester, I met with faculty and staff members to discuss issues associated with the budget and provisions of the GRAD Act. We held eight sessions over several weeks with the intention that every faculty and staff member who wanted the opportunity to discuss these important issues with the administration had a chance to do so. I was very encouraged that so many faculty and staff participated.
Make no mistake; we find ourselves in unprecedented times. There is little doubt there will be additional reductions in the financial support we receive from the State of Louisiana in the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year that begins July 1. What is still very unclear is the magnitude of any additional budget reductions. Unfortunately, it is likely we will not know the final budget amount until after the end of the legislative session this summer.
Recently, Governor Jindal was quoted as being optimistic that reductions for higher education would be less than ten percent. Given that prior “worst case” potential reductions of 30+ percent had been discussed, the Governor’s reference to a reduction of less than ten percent certainly seems like positive news. However, it is still far from clear what the Governor’s comments actually mean.
I’ll share with you some of the factors that contribute to the complexity and uncertainty of the upcoming budget situation.
Ten Percent of What?
The potential result of a ten percent budget reduction varies drastically depending on how it is computed. As an example, on multiple occasions, the Governor and his administration have described the cumulative budget reductions for higher education over the last couple of years as “less than five percent - of total means of financing.”
Southeastern’s budget reductions to date have totaled over $16 million, which represents approximately 20 percent of the amount of our State appropriation at the time the reductions began.
As another example, this past fall the Division of Administration asked higher education to simulate the impact of a “worst case” 32 percent budget reduction scenario. For this “planning exercise” we were told the reduction for Southeastern would be approximately $19.4 million.
Until there are additional details and explanations forthcoming, we can not be certain what “less than ten percent” means.
Another significant factor is that all provisions of the Governor’s proposed executive budget, once it is released in mid March, must still pass muster with the legislature. It seems quite likely that the “ten percent” recently quoted by the Governor would be partly tied to several proposed revenue measures (sale of State assets, additional tuition or other fees, etc.) to which the legislature must agree. Further complicating matters, any revenue measures that result in increased tuition and fees for higher education must be approved by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Louisiana Legislature. Many of our delegation members have expressed to me that they will be hard pressed to support such new revenue measures at the current time.
A final factor is the new funding formula for higher education. Partial implementation of this formula for the current fiscal year added over $1.5 million to what Southeastern’s reduction otherwise would have been. There are still many unanswered questions about the new formula and its potential further implementation or modification. Clearly, whatever its final form, the funding formula will have an important impact on the ultimate outcome of our budget.
The New Normal
Overlapping this environment of economic uncertainty and potentially shrinking State resources are expectations of increased performance and accountability. This “new normal” as it is being referred to is something that seems daunting - as doing more with less almost always does.
To date, we have had to make some difficult decisions in order to shrink our costs to match declining resources while maintaining necessary support for programs that serve the most people and are the most productive, particularly in terms of factors such as graduating students and other objectives consistent with the GRAD Act. Layoffs, program reductions and eliminations, and re-organization of operational functions have not been easy - but they have been necessary.
While I am aware some people are not pleased with some of these changes, I want everyone to know that throughout these difficult decisions, this administration has been guided by one absolute principle - doing that which best serves the majority of our students and will ensure the ongoing viability of our great university. The decisions made may not always be popular, but they will always be the result of thorough and objective analysis and collaborative input.
I believe that the next 18 months will bring new challenges for all of us. Those of you who participated in the budget/GRAD Act discussions before the holidays know I expect the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year will be particularly difficult. And, the debate over the upcoming State budget likely will take many tortuous turns before its final conclusion.
We must not allow the budget debate and related issues to distract us from continuing to serve our students and fulfill our institutional mission. Failure to maintain our focus will detract from our ability to serve our students and endanger our ability to meet the performance expectations outlined in the GRAD Act, and our ability to access the critical additional resources that follow.
I want to be up front and clear - any significant additional budget reductions in the 2011-12 fiscal year will cause further program and personnel reductions. Regrettably, for all of the reasons mentioned above, at this time it is impossible to predict the magnitude of future reductions. Please know, however, that we will do everything possible to minimize their negative impact on our institution and its students and personnel.
Southeastern is blessed to be located in a dynamic region of our State. Our institution has a dynamic student body as well as faculty and staff who have continued to demonstrate dedication and remarkable resiliency during these financially challenging times. One thing remains absolutely crystal clear - our best path forward is for each and every one of us to continue to stay focused on our institutional mission and meeting the needs of our students.
I hope everyone has a safe and productive spring semester, and as always, I will continue to share any developments with the entire campus community as soon as new information is available.