Updated: Apr 8, 2020
The recent Salisbury University budget cuts have created a range of confusion and rumors regarding funds allocated to departments and student services.
The administration at SU announced on Feb. 9 at the Student Government Association forum that enrollment fees will be increased by $224 next year.
Marvin Pyles, the vice president of administration and finance, said the increase is a normal escalation of the cost of doing business and keeping the school up and running.
“We try to keep it at a minimum, and generally the goal is to increase by 2% or lower ― that is what the unspoken or sometimes-enforced policy from the Board of Regents is,” he said. “We don’t want to put the burden on students’ backs. We don’t want to burden them with unnecessary fees, but we have bills to pay.”
The increase in fees was met with speculation from both students and staff.
However, Pyles argued it is inaccurate to say the university cut budgets across the board.
“Were there particular areas where money was moved around, or individuals in individual departments had their budgets cut by their boss, dean, director? Yes, that may have occurred,” Pyles said. “But this pervasive notion that the university was cutting their budgets is inaccurate.”
Pyles provided data and spreadsheets to support his claim that very few departments actually had their budgets cut. He explained the budget for the 2020 fiscal year is determined based on the previous year’s expenses for each department.
“If you look at Academic Affairs, for example, overall, their budget actually went up 2.6% from 2019 to 2020,” he said. “In the span from 2016 to 2020, their budget went up 16.24%, so it is unfair to say that we cut their budget.”
One of the main reasons professors and students alike are feeling the impacts of the budget is because it was changed from a centralized approach to a decentralized approach.
Dr. Karen Olmstead, provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs, said the budget is broken down into five categories: academic affairs, admin and finance, advancement, president’s office and student affairs. Money is allocated to those categories based on the previous year’s spending patterns.
Olmstead has control over the academic affairs budget and has attempted to align the budget similar to what it was in year’s past, but there have been new changes to SU.
The creation of the new College of Health and Human Services impacted the budgets of other schools, like the Henson School and the Seidel School. Both lost high-volume majors such as nursing, respiratory therapy and social work.
Olmstead said she is primarily responsible for how the budget is organized, working with the respective deans of each school.
“[The] academic affairs piece of the pie was about 42% of the entire budget, and an understandable question would be, is 42% reasonable for what is arguably the heart of the university?” Olmstead said.
Olmstead, along with the finance department, has been looking for benchmarks at other universities in order to compare their spending and break down between categories.
“Based on the data I’ve seen, I think academic affairs, or what’s spent on instruction, is low, and so that’s a conversation that I have been having with the rest of the executive staff,” she said. “I do not think it’s sufficient.”
Olmstead and Pyles pointed out that SU has nearly doubled financial aid to students since 2016. It has gone up 12.5% from 2019 to 2020 and has gone up 79.91% from 2016, according to data provided by Pyles.
“It’s well over $12 million for next year, so the way to think about it is that’s another $6 or $7 million being spent in that area,” Pyles said. “Where did that money come from? It came from other areas on campus.”
Another point of contention was the rumor that budgets were cut due to raises.
But in actuality, it was due to the cost-of-living adjustments that are enforced by the state, according to Pyles. A COLA is an increase in income that keeps up with the cost of living and is often applied to wages, salaries and benefits.
Dr. Adam Wood, president of the Faculty Senate and chair of the University Consortium, said he believes the idea that the cost of living adjustments were the main impetus for the new budget is misleading.
“I have been here for 13 years, and the number of times faculty actually got raises is phenomenally low,” Wood said. “Faculty did get, for the first time in many years, the cost-of-living adjustments. Now, cost of living is just to keep you where you are and is totally different than a raise.”
Salisbury’s Budget Officer Barri Zimmerman said the state provides funds for these COLAs, but only for full-time faculty positions.
“For people who work in our auxiliary areas like Dining Services or Housing, those folks are considered in the self-support area auxiliary, so we don’t get money for them,” she said. “We don’t receive money for adjunct professors or contractual workers either, but they get the raise still, and we have to fund that ourselves.”
Salisbury officials understand the frustration from faculty. However, they noted the decisions were necessary for the betterment of the institution.
“We make a very convenient boogeyman; people want to blame us,” Pyles said. “We take the revenue, and we distribute it. If someone feels like they were slighted, it’s because a decision was made at that level to cut or to make better use of the resources they were given.”
But, faculty members still want answers.
Wood said the communication between the respective groups needs to improve moving forward, saying the freedom to push back against administrative decisions is problematic and still presents challenges.
“We are the ones who work with students,” he said. “The students come here to work with us. We think that relationship is essential to university functioning.”
By SOFIA CARRASCO
Featured image: Sofia Carrasco graphic - Data provided by SU Finance Department.