UNIVERSITY ABSORBS SEVERE BUDGET CUTS
Drastic shortfalls in expected state revenue for the next two years have forced officials at Virginia Tech and throughout Virginia's higher education system to wrestle with the worst funding crisis in recent history.
In fact, during the 1990-92 biennium, Virginia Tech will have to operate with a budget reduction of $46.7 million. In addition to the elimination of hundreds of positions, the budget cuts forced the layoff of about 75 university employees, delayed capital projects, and resulted in crowded classrooms because of fewer professors teaching more and more students.
The predicted shortfalls in state revenues grew throughout the spring and summer as the state's income woes worsened because of declines in forecasted economic growth. What had been predicted to be a $100 million shortfall in state revenue became a $300 million shortfall, and by August had ballooned to $1.4 billion. As the shortfall predictions grew, so did mandated budget reductions for state agencies, including higher education.
During the spring, Virginia Tech was forced to make a first round of cuts, eliminating $9.2 million per year during the 1990-92 biennium, or 5 percent. When revised forecasts were issued later, the university was then faced with a total budget reduction of $46.7 million, or more than 10 percent, over the two-year period.
As a result of the first round of cuts, the university eliminated 274 vacant positions, including 131 faculty positions, 131 classified positions, and 12 graduate teaching positions. The second round of cuts required the elimination of approximately 150 positions, including 75 layoffs.
University officials had hoped that the second round of cuts would be less severe. During the first round of budget cuts, higher education, which accounts for 16 percent of the state budget, was the target for 42 percent of the budget reductions.
"These reductions are especially severe because of the essentially flat operating budgets given to higher education throughout the 1980s," explained university President James D. McComas. "We are operating the university with 1980 dollars while a decade of inflation has eroded our buying power."
Funding for faculty salaries and equipment has increased in recent years, enabling the university to maintain its reputation and attract quality personnel. "But while we are gratified that salary increases have allowed us to remain competitive nationally, these latest reductions will certainly have a serious impact on our effectiveness," McComas added.
The reductions have affected all aspects of university life -- classroom instruction, research, and public-service activities. Some classes have more than tripled in size. For example, seven sections of freshman mathematics classes were replaced by two sections; 13 sections of calculus classes were replaced with four sections.
The university is even considering limiting enrollment during 1991-92. During 1990-91, the university is, in effect, absorbing an additional 2,000 students, based on personnel reductions.
Graduate programs, the heart of a research university, have been especially hard hit. In fact, the number of entering doctoral students is down 33 percent because of cuts in graduate stipends. In the R.B. Pamplin College of Business, three departments were unable to enroll any doctoral students because of insufficient funds.
Fewer graduate students means less support for research faculty, thereby impinging on the university's ability to attract new research programs. This comes at a time when Virginia Tech is still emerging as a leading national research university.
In addition, the university has lost $27.7 million in lottery funds that were earmarked for capital improvement projects, including funding for an architecture/engineering building and Veterinary Medicine Phase IV.
The long-term impacts upon Virginia Tech are unclear. "Fundamentally, the university is sound. High quality students and faculty are attracted to Virginia Tech because of a strong reputation for academic excellence," commented Provost Fred Carlisle. "But, it's the extra touches that make a great university. Now, we must look at every program to assure that it meets the test of need, demand, and value."
Added Minnis Ridenour, executive vice president and chief business officer, "Unfortunately, there is a feeling in some political circles, both locally and at the state level, that the quality of higher education has not been adversely affected by the previous cuts and that there is some flexibility in our budget. That is a misconception we need to change."
Some believe that a statewide team effort by Virginia public colleges and universities is extremely important at this time. Added Ralph Byers, Virginia Tech's new director of governmental relations, "We must not only address the short-term budget crisis but also work to create a climate of support for higher education that will ensure responsive state funding over the long term."
Alumni of Virginia universities, working with a common purpose of maintaining excellence, can also be key factors in communicating the urgency of the on-going fiscal challenges.
Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 12, Number 2 Fall 1990