A balanced approach to budget cuts was the main suggestion in a letter sent to incoming University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols and the UW Board of Trustees President Dave Palmerlee by the UW Academic Dean’s Council.
“Our message was, ‘Yes, this is a necessary part of what’s needed in this budgetary climate,’” College of Education Dean Ray Reutzel said. “But, on the other hand, there is a whole host of tools both the state and the university can look at for revenue generation that can make a balanced approach.”
The letter outlines the deans’ concerns about likely budget reductions, although they don’t know exactly how deep the cuts could be.
“It’s rough territory we’re going through now,” Reutzel said. “None of us know what we’re going to be working with.”
The introduction explains the overall negative mood shared by many people on campus.
“Over the past six months, the narrative about the future of the university communicated to the faculty and staff has been overwhelmingly melancholy,” the letter states. “No organization can long survive and thrive in such an environment of pessimism. At some point, university and state leadership has a responsibility to recognize that if the university and state are to survive and thrive, a more balanced narrative is needed — one that acknowledges the economic realities and difficulties but also one that points the way to optimistic solutions. As Winston S. Churchill once said, ‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.’”
Eight deans signed the letter sent Monday, which listed several ideas to either save costs or gain revenue.
“We wanted to present to them some ideas that they might not have thought about,” College of Health Dean Joe Steiner said. “This is us trying to work together with some of these issues.”
Early retirement incentives, outsourcing certain university functions like maintenance and food services and increasing program fees and tuition were some of the suggestions in the letter.
However, opening a discussion about the funding situation was also a major goal, possibly more so than any of the listed suggestions, Steiner said.
“We wanted to start a dialogue with the new president and the Board of Trustees about the decline in state funding,” he said.
While the deans have been in contact with Nichols and the Trustees, some of the key focuses of the letter were not addressed, College of Engineer Dean Michael Pishko said.
“Some of the discussions we’ve had have been more focused on the downturn in revenue but not so much on the plan to address it,” he said. “The purpose of the letter was to say, ‘We understand there’s a downturn. Let’s start talking about ways to address it.’”
Palmerlee said he’s happy to have the deans involved.
“I think this is a wonderful expression of the academic leadership of the university — of their desire to maintain and build on the excellence of the university while facing these difficult choices,” he said.
A response from Nichols and Palmerlee thanks the deans for the letter and their openness for joint discussions, which is what College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Frank Galey wanted.
“I think the main thing we wanted Dr. Nichols to know is, we’re willing to work with her to get on top of this and are on top of this,” he said.
Pishko has been through a similar budget situation before and wants to make sure his knowledge and experience can be useful.
“There are a lot of things the university can do to address the reductions now and into the future,” he said. “A lot of us have experience doing this. I worked with a 10 percent cut for personnel funding in one year at Texas A&M University during the financial crisis of ’08-’09.”
This experience and all of the other messages relayed in the letter shows Palmerlee a strong partnership is just beginning, he said.
“I was thrilled to see the deans say, ‘We understand what needs to be done, and we’re going to be in the harness pulling with the administration and the board to get these things done,’” he said. “I think I can speak for the board that we welcome their active participation in working and solving these problems, and so does Dr. Nichols. I think this is just the start of a much more solid relationship.”