‘Students a top priority’ in wake of state funding cuts, says UConn CFO


(File/The Daily Campus)

As University of Connecticut officials enter discussion on the proposed state budget, the future of UConn’s financial state remains uncertain.

On Saturday, UConn President Susan Herbst highlighted the possible cuts and changes that will have to be made to university programming due to the $300 million cut in state funding, which was proposed and approved by the Republican state legislature on Saturday.

The cuts are spread out over the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, with $128 million in cuts for 2018 and $184 million for 2019.

Governor Malloy vetoed the budget on Monday, putting the state deficit back into a gridlock. In the meantime, the severity of the cuts and the possible program closures that UConn will face remain unknown, according to the Hartford Courant.

“Our first priorities will be with the students and their families,” UConn Chief Financial Officer Scott Jordan said. “We will try and restore as much as the (funding) as possible.”

Last year’s deficit cuts of $6.5 million has already reduced funding for several departments, Jordan said.

“We’ve already implemented a number of cuts in the administrative units,” Jordan said. “We will have to acknowledge that if the cuts are as deep as the Republicans propose, we will have to reduce the pace of hiring. Our first priorities would be to cut administrative units to try and preserve the student experience.”

In addition to fewer administrators and possibly larger classes sizes, the cost of tuition may also be at risk.

“We would have to evaluate whether or not to raise tuition,” Jordan said.

Though this semester’s financial aid packages are unaffected by the cuts, aid for next semester could be affected if the budget goes through, Jordan said.

“All of this is happening with the fall semester well underway,” Jordan said. “We don’t yet know what the level of those cuts may be. The university does not have a lot of financial tools to work with this late into the semester. It’s very hard to find the money without layoffs, or (without) affecting tuition and financial aid.”

The Connecticut House Republicans have posted a line-item proposal of the budget, highlighting the programs they propose should be cut in order to free the funds available to make the budget deficit, according to the CT House Republicans website.

Line items suggested include: increasing faculty course load, introducing more flexibility in hiring and contracting professors and ending free tuition for dependents of professors and employees, as well as reducing fringe benefits (such as medical care and pensions) for UConn employees.

Some of these line items are impossible to fulfill, Jordan said, due to the contractual obligations set by the state and by unions in hiring faculty.

We would have to evaluate whether or not to raise tuition.
— UConn CFO Scott Jordan

“The problem with the budget proposals (by the Republicans) is that it affects a bunch of agreements under collective bargaining that can’t be broken,” Jordan said.

The University Senate Budget Committee, composed of faculty and staff from various departments and colleges within UConn, met on Monday evening to discuss the implications of the cuts.

“(The cuts) in the current fiscal year is impossible,” Associate Vice President of the Office of Budget and Planning Katrina Spencer said. “We’d have to do something drastic. People have done so much good work and done so much to save (during last year’s cuts). To take such a big cut (now) is almost demoralizing.”

The budget committee also discussed the priorities of the UConn administration in determining which programs to cut, if the budget is approved.

“The faculty make it clear that the priority is the students and the academic mission,” Committee chair Carol Atkinson-Palombo said . “We have a similar level of concern (about the cuts). Not just about what’s being proposed, but what might be on the table during negotiations (with the House Republicans).”

University administrators will meet with Republican leadership to discuss the budget on Sept. 19, Jordan said.

“The university is willing to do their part to help out with (balancing) the state budget, but the cuts are just too much,” Jordan said. “It really hurts the students.”

Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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