Budget cuts presenting 'challenge for everyone,' say campus leaders

The day after ballot measures meant to balance the state's finances failed soundly at the polls, UCSC leaders acknowledged the campus's budget picture was even bleaker than before.

There are "a lot of numbers flying around" about UC's budget cuts, said Chancellor George Blumenthal, addressing the last Academic Senate meeting of the year on Wednesday (May 21).

With the governor's May budget revision, Blumenthal said, a previous $115 million cut to the UC system has grown to $322 million. When combined with the state's underfunding of student enrollments and inflationary cost increases, UC's total budget gap would amount to $531 million.

The Legislature has yet to weigh in, and we "don't know the result, but let's be frank," said Blumenthal. "It's going to get harder, at least for the near future, and it's going to be a real challenge for everyone. Whether you are a student, faculty, or staff, you will feel it."

The total UCSC operating budget for 2008-09 is $540 million. The campus sustained two cuts this year - a $4.5 million permanent cut when the 2008-09 budget was allocated, then $6 million more as a one-time midyear cut. In recent weeks, campus officials have been making decisions about how to trim a collective $13 million in additional cuts for the 2009-10 year.

UCSC "won't be doing some of the things we used to, and now we're being cut even more," Blumenthal said.

The campus is already beginning to see the impacts, said David Kliger, campus provost and executive vice chancellor. "The cost to students is rising dramatically, services are being reduced, jobs have been lost," he said.

The campus will accept fewer freshmen compared with last fall, but that's good news, said Blumenthal, because it will mitigate some of the impact of the cuts.

In assigning the cuts, "we attempted to evaluate what the impact of proposed cuts would be and assign the reductions in a way that imposed the least harm to our instruction and research mission," said Kliger.

He acknowledged he had received criticism for the way the cuts were conceived and implemented, and Kliger said he is consulting with the Senate's Committee on Planning & Budget on future budget-cutting processes.

Of the $17.5 million in permanent reductions assigned for 2008 through 2010, academic support divisions have absorbed approximately two-thirds of the total ($11.4 million), and the academic divisions one-third ($5.5 million). The balance was taken from centrally held funds.

Kliger said the smaller differential cuts made in the most recent reductions to the Jack Baskin School of Engineering and the Physical & Biological Sciences division were based on his belief that enrollments have historically shifted toward science and engineering during difficult economic times, so the campus might anticipate increased enrollments in these areas in the near future.

Also, he said, the federal government has made it clear that high priorities for investment in the coming years will be in the areas of health and energy independence.

"Engineering and PB Sci have strong programs in these areas and are in good positions to compete effectively for the increased federal funding that will be available to support their work in these areas with some investments," Kliger said.

He described the criteria he laid out for making various cuts, but said, "It is difficult for me to believe any decisions can truly be 'right' in this situation."

Principal officers have been asked to report on how they will implement the 2009-10 assigned reductions and identify the fund sources to be cut by May 22.

A student from Community Studies, one of many programs to lose staff and/or positions as part of the 2009-10 budget cut, asked whether high-level administrator salaries would be cut to help fill the budget gap.

Kliger said he'd proposed that to the UC Office of the President before and had been told it was "not the right time."

He noted that his office has taken the highest percentage of cuts compared with its overall budget.

"It's important you should know we are leading from the top and not just assuming all cuts have to be made at the bottom," he said.

Also at the meeting, the Committee on Faculty Welfare presented a report on the UC Retirement Program (UCRP), saying that liabilities now exceed assets by so much that even the planned 2010 restart of employee and employer contributions will not return the system to a healthy funding ratio. Health benefits for retirees are also in jeopardy, according to the report.

The senate passed a resolution urging UC President Yudof to issue and post on the Office of the President's web site statements assuring UC's commitment to honor UCRP employee benefits and post-retirement health benefits and provide financial reports and information.