Sunday, June 16, 2024

University faculty express concerns over spending freeze

NewsCampus NewsUniversity faculty express concerns over spending freeze

MATTHEW TRUNFIO
Staff Reporter




At the start of the spring semester, some faculty and staff members were surprised to learn that the university had implemented a spending freeze, placing an immediate hold on funding for hiring, travel and research.

The sudden discontinuation of previously anticipated funding left many professors in a state of distress and confusion.

While the spending freeze’s full effects on teaching are yet to be seen, Sarah Wasserman, an associate English professor, stated that the additional workload is already impacting the quality of education professors can offer.

“Many faculty like me have been putting so much time and energy into figuring out what is happening with funds and doing approvals, that it has been taking up a lot of time and mental space,” Wasserman said. “I can feel that in terms of how much time I have to give to my students.”

Delice Williams, an assistant English professor, shared similar thoughts through an email stating that she found this news shocking because it “came so suddenly.”

“The cause of it all remains unclear to me as well,” Williams wrote. “But it is clear that budget cuts invariably mean more strain on faculty and staff as workloads shift, and those effects ripple outward, meaning less time, funding, and creative energy for us to design the kinds of transformative learning experiences we want students to have in and outside the classroom.”

During the initial onset of the university’s self-coined “financial crisis,” President Dennis Assanis sent out an email alerting faculty members of the current hardships. Within that message, Assanis asked that, amidst the loss of funding, faculty members search for their own sources of revenue to finance their teaching efforts.

This request was perceived as unfair by some of its recipients.

“That’s not what I was hired to do or what I was trained to do, and I don’t think it’s what has the most immediate impact on my students,” Wasserman said. “I’m a mentor, a teacher, an advisor and someone who is supposed to inspire students about literature, and that should take up most of my time.”

Guidelines and requests regarding the spending freeze are outlined on a university webpage and have been updated since the initial announcement.

On March 14, the university sent out an email stating that administrators have hosted “listening tours” with each individual college to discuss strategies and solutions to the current budget challenge. 

Assanis referenced “common themes” that came up in discussion with faculty and staff, including, but not limited to:

  • “Maintaining” course offerings
  • Providing “career advancement” opportunities for faculty and staff, such as sabbaticals and “competitive” wages
  • More transparency in departmental budgets
  • Different approaches to handle rising healthcare costs and premiums

He also expressed plans to host more of these listening tours in the future.

Assanis is one of the country’s highest-paid university presidents, earning $1.6 million a year, according to the most recent public tax records

Olivia Amzallag, an assistant French professor, described the situation as “grossly unbalanced.”

“We’ve given too much power to the people who are administrating us,” Amzallag said. “But at this point, it’s kind of disgusting isn’t it?”

The university is also in the process of moving its football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), which will bring with it additional expenses of roughly $6 million that must be budgeted for. However, the university has maintained that all those funds will come from fundraising.

Larissa Veronica Heather/THE REVIEW

Among some faculty, there is a hope that moving up to the FBS will bring new sources of revenue.

“I think there is an idea that you get more attention and therefore more money from revenue, trustees and donations,” Wasserman said. 

Not all faculty members view the move positively. Amzallag believes that the move signifies the university’s shift in focus away from academics and toward promoting itself as a brand through athletics.

“The strength in the university is no longer in the classroom,” Amzallag said. “It definitely is showing us what’s important to the administration.”

On March 4, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) published a survey that asked faculty a series of questions about the university’s spending freeze. 

One question asked respondents if they “have confidence in the administration’s ability to mitigate the current financial challenges while minimizing negative effects on faculty.” 46% “Completely Disagreed,” while 33% “Somewhat Disagreed”.

The AAUP also asked whether “factors leading to the current budget deficit should have been anticipated by the administration.” 56% of respondents “Completely Agreed,” while 31% “Somewhat Agreed.”

Wasserman expressed a similar level of surprise at the university’s lack of foresight.

“When you’re a faculty member, it feels very difficult to imagine that these things come completely out of the blue,” she said. “One thing that has upset a lot of people, including me, is that we found out about this the Friday before the semester started.

“It was a sudden unveiling of very distressing news, and we didn’t know what it meant for life at the university, for our students or for our research. And we didn’t even have time to really process that because it was one day before the semester.”

Moving forward, the actions of the university and its administration have left some of its faculty and staff worried about where the school is headed. 

“I think higher education is under a serious threat in this country for a number of reasons, and I am generally worried about that trend,” Wasserman said. “I am concerned by what is happening now that the university may become a part of that trend.”

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