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February 17, 2003

Budget talk dominates staff forum

By Jennifer McNulty

Uncertainty about the budget dominated the discussion during the chancellor’s second brown-bag forum with staff this academic year.

EVC/Campus Provost Simpson shares his initial assessment of Governor's proposed budget and its implications for UCSC. More

"The most certain thing about the current budget is the uncertainty of the final outcome," said Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood during her opening comments to the crowd of about 200 on February 12.

The chancellor’s remarks summed up the quandary campus administrators find themselves in. With the state facing a shortfall of at least $24 billion, the university is certain to take a financial hit, and UCSC will have to bear its share. But the scope and timing of cuts remain unknown.

Governor Gray Davis has proposed a state budget that would cut $400 million from University of California funding. Estimates of the potential impact for UCSC run between $14.5 million and $16.5 million, but legislators will negotiate for months before final budget numbers are known. Although state law requires lawmakers to approve a budget by July 1, that deadline has been missed before, noted Greenwood, who predicted it could be as late as the fall before the state adopts a final spending plan.

In the meantime, Campus Provost John Simpson has formed an Executive Budget Committee (EBC) to help the campus prepare for leaner economic times. The charge of the EBC is to work "on both sides of the ledger," as Simpson put it, identifying ways to reduce the campus budget by $10 million and increase revenues by at least $5 million over the next three years. The EBC’s recommendations are due to Simpson by the end of June.

Because state support for higher education has consistently dropped during the past 30 years, UCSC needs to take a long-term approach to the current budget crisis, explained Simpson.

Simpson has opted to take an "inclusive, campuswide" approach to budget cuts, as opposed to what he called the easier, more common "directive" approach in which campus leaders "pass out numbers." Three project teams will focus on policies and procedures, academic instruction and research, and revenue generation.

Declaring that there will be "no sacred cows," Simpson encouraged budget analysts to examine whether the campus needs an executive vice chancellor. "That’s an entirely appropriate question," the executive vice chancellor added wryly.

The campus has hired AVCOR Consulting to assist in the long-term budget planning process and to help UCSC conduct business "more effectively, more efficiently, and for less money," said Simpson. UCSC, like academic institutions generally, has trouble looking "self-critically" and adopting new practices, he added.

Outlining the principles that will guide the campus through the foreseeable future, Greenwood said administrators will seek to avoid layoffs by freezing new hires, reducing the cost of doing business wherever possible, and seeking to minimize the impact of cuts on individual units.

"In addition, we are seriously considering adopting a campus-only recruitment policy for the next six to eight months," said Greenwood, promising that a decision is forthcoming.

Layoffs may be necessary in some areas, said Greenwood, noting that Student Affairs is facing midyear funding cuts announced by the governor. "But we don’t want to worry people about layoffs if the money is going to come back," she said, referring again to the uncertain news out of Sacramento. If layoffs become necessary, the campus will announce severance, rehiring, and retraining policies.

On other topics, most parking fees will increase 5 percent on July 1, and traffic signals have been approved for the Physical Plant intersection and the Hagar and Coolidge Drives intersection.

In addition to budget news, Greenwood shared her concerns about the world situation, as the United States appears poised on the brink of war with Iraq.

"These are not just budget-troubled times, these are troubled times in lots of ways," she said. Expressing her personal hope that a peaceful alternative to the conflict is found, Greenwood called on all members of the campus community to abide by UCSC’s Principles of Community to ensure that UCSC remains a "nonthreatening and nonintimidating" place for all.

As a place of intellectual inquiry, the campus must remain a "safe place for all faculty, students, and staff," she said, and all voices must be heard, "even voices of dissent."

Greenwood also shared her delight over the recent opening of the new University Center and the crowd of about 1,000 people who attended the opening event—about three times the expected number.

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