January 27, 2017
[The day after this email was sent out, SIU announced some budget cuts in athletics.]
Welcome back for the spring semester.
Last week, Interim Chancellor Colwell released the final report of the Non-Instructional Program Review Committee. We commend the committee for their work, and hope that many of their recommendations will be put into effect. What follows are some ideas on how to further the conversation they have started.
- We can save millions in non-instructional costs—and should make such cuts before trimming academics.
- We should prioritize among non-instructional expenses.
- We should eliminate the massive subsidy and deficit spending in athletics.
- We should involve all staff in designing ways to improve efficiency on campus.
Savings for academics
The report includes few specific dollar totals, but even the limited figures provided identify savings on the order of $13 million. Savings here can and should help us preserve our academic mission; we should get working on these cuts now, in time to eliminate or at least substantially reduce cuts to academic areas.
Priorities: campus centers vs. athletics
We have heard much talk about prioritization among academic programs, but there is no emphasis on prioritization in this report. Consider the rather different treatment of campus research and service centers (section 6) and athletics (section 11).
The report provides a partial list of research and service centers on campus “that should be self-supporting,” and identifies $5.5 million in potential savings if we eliminate subsidies to these units (i.e., no longer provide them with funds from tuition and general state appropriations). Given the budget crisis, all such centers that can be self-supporting should be self-supporting. But the committee does not say why all centers can be expected to succeed without any subsidy.
The report notes that athletics receives an annual subsidy of $1.5 million, and reveals that athletics ran a deficit of some $3 million dollars in FY2016. Athletics is not the only unit on campus with a deficit, but its $3 million deficit is almost as much as all other units on campus combined ($3.8 million).
The report does not mention that athletics also receives $11.5 million in student fees each year (FY 2015 SIUC Budget Book, table B6), with each full-time student paying $800 per year in fees to support intercollegiate athletics. The total subsidy for athletics at SIU thus totals at least $13 million dollars, with a $3 million deficit on top of that. We are often told that athletics represents a small part of the university budget, but the $16 million in state money, student fees, and deficit spending dwarfs any other figure for potential savings identified in this report.
The committee is therefore right to call for a “major review of the athletic operation.” We would go further: athletics should be subject to the same scrutiny applied to campus research and service centers—not to mention the ongoing scrutiny of academic programs. We find it difficult to believe that it is in SIUC’s best interest to continue massive subsidies of athletics while cutting academic programs and eliminating subsidies for all research centers, the SIU museum, SIU press, WSIU, the Clinical Center, and Career Services.
Committee members represented numerous constituencies on campus, and the next steps in this process must also involve people from across campus. As the report itself notes, we already have numerous money-saving policies in place, but many of these policies are routinely ignored. A new set of top-down directives would likely meet a similar fate.
Staff in effected units must play an integral role in designing measures to improve efficiency. To incentivize involvement, staff must be assured that their suggestions for change will not result in layoffs, and that units will retain a significant proportion of the savings for other aspects of their work.
This more inclusive approach could do wonders for morale on campus. And without buy-in from staff across campus, cost-saving measures will not only be resented as yet more administrative penny pinching, but will be ignored and remain ineffective.
In short, we welcome this report as an important first step in identifying ways for SIU to protect its academic mission in the face of the continuing budget crisis. It is absolutely vital that this report lead to real changes, and do so promptly.