Librarian at Large
In The News
Scott G. McNall
The Elephant in the Glove Compartment
budget deficit hard to describe and impossible
How do you tell if there is an elephant in your glove
compartment? You can smell the peanuts on his breath. I suppose one reason
elephant jokes became popular is that the elephant is hard to describe
and impossible to ignore, especially if there is one in the room. The
elephant, like our current budget situation, excites comment. We want
to describe this animal, explain how it got into the room, and talk about
what we are going to do to get it out.
As you have already been told, under the budget proposed by the governor,
our campus stands to lose almost $12 million.1 Strange as it seems, this
is a best-case scenario. Our potential budget cut is $18.6 million, but
this will be reduced to $12 million if student fees are increased. The
fee increases proposed by the trustees would yield $6.7 million in new
revenue. It is crucial that we understand the magnitude and importance
of the fees: If we do not receive them, we will have to cancel at least
1,300 sections of classes in the fall and spring (650 each semester).
That reduction would be devastating to our students. Once we calculate
the anticipated revenues and total the reductions proposed under the governor’s
budget, in Academic Affairs, we are looking at a permanent, base-budget
reduction of close to 10 percent, or $9.6 million. Reducing our budget
by this amount, and still serving the same number of students, is a daunting
If we are to serve the same number of students, we need to protect faculty
lines. In Academic Affairs, the total amount spent (wages and benefits)
on the faculty is about $53 million. If there is no reduction to faculty
lines and attendant benefits, we will have to reduce all other areas in
Academic Affairs by 26 percent. The number of areas from which we can
cut is limited. For example, we have $25 million in nonfaculty positions
(staff, chairs, vice provosts, deans, associate deans) and $10.5 million
in operating expenses. If we follow the recommendation of the governor,
faculty lines would be reduced by 5 percent, and we would still have to
trim about 20 percent from other areas. The impact outside Academic Affairs
would be equally painful. The governor’s budget requires sacrifice
from everyone in the university community.
How did the elephant get into the room? The state of California’s
spending obligations for such things as schools, medical care, and prisons
outstrip its revenues. Typically, a combination of spending cuts and tax
increases (e.g., those proposed by the governor) covers the deficit. What
this California Assembly and Senate will do, and when, is not clear. No
responsible analysts are predicting the state’s budget situation
will improve anytime soon. Whatever they do, we must take charge of our
We must make clear plans to reduce the budget, and we should assume the
problems we are facing are not short term. Across the country, state-assisted
universities face an erosion of tax support. The point is that the economic
problems of universities are long term and structural.2 If that is the
case, we must generate long-term solutions. For a long-term reduction
in revenue for the university, we must be clear about how we will maintain
the quality of work life for faculty and staff. With fewer resources comes
the potential for unplanned and undesirable structural change: changes
in the way we work, teach, and serve students. We must be clear about
the kind of university we want to be three to five years from now. We
don’t want to be flattened by the elephant.
This situation requires all of us to answer collectively at least three
questions: (1) How can we generate both short- and long-term savings?
(2) How can we generate new revenue? (3) What can we cut in the university
that does not erode the core values of the institution?
Some current suggestions are these: use the electronic infrastructure
to create a paperless university and reduce paper and distribution costs;
use WebCT to provide students with course materials and assignments; reduce
copier costs; reduce travel; reduce the use of long-distance services;
reduce the use of utilities through the elimination of appliances on campus;
reduce the book budget in the library and maintain online subscription
services; etc. There are also useful discussions ongoing about how to
streamline the curriculum and provide flexibility in meeting GE requirements
that could provide savings.
In the area of new revenue, it has been suggested we step up our international
and out-of-state recruiting efforts, grow the institution at off-campus
locations such as Redding, and, when we know that enrollment will be fully
funded, increase enrollments on the campus, being careful to maintain
a balance between enrollments and resources. Grant and contract work,
which generates incentive funds for project directors, departments, and
colleges and provides numerous opportunities for students, must be stimulated.
Finally, we must maintain faculty and staff development, because that
enhances productivity, and we should support the wise use of academic
technology, when it enhances productivity.
We cannot continue to do business the way we have in the past. We don’t
want to be overwhelmed by changes imposed on us by others. Please join
the budget discussion. One easy way to participate is to go to the Web
site for Academic Affairs and click on the budget, where you will find
a wealth of information. You will have a chance to ask questions and to
contribute to the budget discussion. Together we can get the elephant
out of the room.
1 I want to emphasize that these numbers are subject
to change, depending on the May revision of the governor’s budget,
the actions of our legislators, the changing financial picture of the
state, actions of the trustees, etc.
2 Ray Scheppach, National Governor’s Association, 2003.