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Torgersen responds to concerns

By John Ashby

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 30 - April 27, 1995

Responding to a request from the Faculty Senate, President Paul Torgersen again met with members of the university community, and provided additional information on the budget-deficit situation the university is facing.

Torgersen revisited the efforts he and other administrators made during the last General Assembly session to recapture major budget reductions slated for the Cooperative Extension Service. He emphasized that these cuts would have had a catastrophic impact on faculty members and programs on campus had they gone through as planned.

Torgersen said the on-campus impact of proposed cuts in Extension funding would have affected 128 equivalent staff positions: 93 in the College of Agriculture, 23 in the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources, six in Human Resources, and six in Vet Medicine.

Torgersen had noted in the April 10 meeting that the efforts to recapture the majority of Extension funding had been largely successful, thus avoiding the major disruption of programs dependent on Extension funding for positions. He reiterated his belief that the committee which is studying the proper direction of the Extension service will succeed in removing the controversy from the service when the General Assembly looks at funding in the future.

Torgersen listed several major areas in which his administration will seek long-term improvements in the budget situation for the university. He referred to the development campaign now in the early phases and noted that Virginia Tech "will be a better university" as a result of the fund-raising efforts of the next few years. In a written memo to the university community, Torgersen referred to efforts to raise unrestricted funds "to preserve and enhance Virginia Tech's academic quality."

A new recruitment program for exceptional out-of-state students which emphasizes the university's commitment to responsible tuition ceilings, and high-quality undergraduate instruction and advising is under way, Torgersen said.

Regarding the size and efficiency of the administration at the university, Torgersen said that the university ranked very low in the region in the number of administrators compared to other universities. "And we don't have people hiding in the back halls of Burruss not working. I see these people and they are working hard, and often putting in long hours," Torgersen said.

Also related to the administration, he said several high-level postions would be held open to help deal with the budget deficit. Specifically, the search for the vice president for alumni affairs has been suspended, and Tom Tillar, director of alumni relations, will handle the duties of that position. Other vacant positions Torgersen noted, include the vice provost for academic affairs, and director of planning.

Torgersen said layoffs would be a decision "made at the department level or the college level as the last resort. Again, the solution to get us through the next year is a decentralized solution. I have sent out a message to the deans pleading with them not to lay off people, except as a last resort. I hope we can get through this without layoffs." Torgersen said he thought furloughs would be very unlikely because they would have to be administered on a unversity-wide basis.

In response to a question from Linda Arnold on how to avoid similar budget shortfalls in the future, Torgersen said the budget-projection process will be done more conservatively. Dwight Shelton, university budget director, said enrollment-projections trend analysis will be done using the Enrollment Management Report, a more conservative source of information.

In response to a question by Bill Knocke regarding Tech's out-of-state tuition being higher than Georgia Tech's, Torgersen said he thought the 3-percent increase authorized by the Board of Visitors would enable the university to be competitive. The university will also be providing more money from the Virginia Tech Foundation for scholarships for out-of-state students, Torgersen said.

In reference to buyout and retirement programs in effect this year, Torgersen said the money saved would reside in the department of the employee who had left. "The money will be available to hire new faculty members," Torgersen said.

In the long-range view of support for higher education, Torgersen was optimistic. He said that state legislators seemed upbeat and receptive to his message on the importance of higher education, and Virginia Tech's role in educating students. But, he said, "We all have to work hard to convince the people of this state that higher education is important."