State cuts funding by 15 percent

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September 11, 2009

4:29 AM

What was originally billed as an opportunity for the College of William and Mary community to meet the new Board of Vistors Rector Henry Wolf ’64 J.D. ’66 and College President Taylor Reveley Wednesday afternoon quickly became a serious dialogue about how to accommodate the most recent round of state-funding cuts. The cuts put total state support for the College at a record low 13.7 percent of its operating budget.

Gov. Tim Kaine announced Monday that his plan to deal with Virginia’s budget shortfall would include a 15 percent, or approximately $6.2 million, cut to the College’s operating budget. While the College says that it can move $2.7 million of federal stimulus funds originally allotted for the fiscal year 2011 to the current year, the College would still be $3.5 million short in funding. Reveley and Wolf, said they are open to any suggestions to close the financial gap.

“So all the discussion will be around the debt between the 6.2 and the 2.7, that’s where we have to decide and as the president and the rector said, everything’s on the table,” BOV Vice President for Finance Sam Jones ’75 M.B.A. ’80, who was sitting in the audience, said. “Do you cut, [or] do you try to raise additional revenue?”

Both options raised concerns from the audience. With a prominent professorial presence, talk of spending cuts in the form of furloughs, salary stagnation and layoffs dominated much of the forum. Student concerns of mid-year tuition increases, in-state and out-of-state percentages and possibilities of privatization filled out the hour and 15 minute form.

Kaine’s plan already includes a one-day furlough for all state employees that will occur for most on the Friday before Memorial Day. Faculty and administration alike questioned the usefulness of a one-day furlough.

“My reaction to that is — what’s the point of one day? What’s the state trying to achieve with that?” Reveley said. “But perhaps, in due course, the holy city will enlighten us.”

When the possibility of longer furloughs, salary reductions and layoffs was mentioned, Wolf assured the group that the objective of the College is to preserve jobs.

“At least at this juncture, without an additional source of revenue or an additional source of funding, it is possible — with compensation costs being the single largest cost of this university — to financially make those salary adjustments without resorting to trying to adjust the size of the workforce, and that’s what we’ve been astutely trying to work toward,” Wolf said.

Physics professor Carl Carlson cited a graph showing that the College’s salary rates were no longer competitive with other Virginia universities, such as George Mason University. According to Carlson’s statistics, an average full-time professor at GMU earns approximately $10,000 more than an average full-time professor at the College. President Reveley said he had been given the same graph by economics professor Robert Archibald previously.

“It certainly looks just as you described it,” Reveley said to Carlson. “We don’t have any money.”

Reveley went on to note that the College, despite having fewer financial resources than peer institutions, continually ranks highly among college rankings such as U.S. News and World Report, who ranked the College 33rd among national universities but only 88th in financial resources, the lowest of any of U.S. News’ top 50 universities.

“Of course, what we would want to do is stop doing more with less and start doing more with more,” Reveley said.

To that end, Reveley and Wolf emphasized seeking further autonomy from the state, particularly for tuition decisions, in order to build a new financial model that would use the College’s prestige to bring in more revenue.

“We have enormous market power for students — enormous market power. We have particular market power for out-of-state as well as in-state,” Reveley said. “We’ve got to be allowed to earn more money.”

Both Reveley and Wolf said politics are the greatest obstacle to achieving greater autonomy.

“We are a public university,” Wolf said. “We are to a large extent in the hands of the commonwealth and our ability to construct that new financial model can’t be done in a vacuum. It has to be done with the governor’s office, with the General Assembly, quite honestly, with the other colleges and universities.”

Wolf said that the College would have to be sensitive to both the political and the economic realities of where it could go with tuition.

Reveley said that he felt tuition should increase only on the condition that need-based financial aid will also increase.

“We will never raise tuition, on in-state people in particular, without simultaneously raising need-based aid,” Reveley later said.

One student in the audience who said she could pay the increased tuition worried that she would not have time to plan ahead for it.

Reveley responded that he too felt mid-year tuition hikes disrupted family budgets.

“I don’t think it’s fair to change the rules in the middle of the game, but we did have to do it in 2003,” Reveley said. “If we end up having to do it, it will be with some real regret.”

Reveley ended the forum by suggesting that any actions taken by the College will be the result of the state making sudden changes to the budget.

The president gave no timeline for any budgetary decisions.

“Those decisions are not decisions that we can make this afternoon or tomorrow, and I think that it would be unlikely that we could make those decisions a week from now in the Board of Visitors meeting,” Wolf said earlier in the afternoon. “But I do think that those are all subjects that need to be on the table and that we need to be focusing on them in a way that allows us to meet the objective that I stated at the beginning, and that is do everything we can to maintain the quality of the instructional program here at William and Mary.”

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