10/29/20 The Administration’s October 2020 Budget Proposal

The process of the Administration settling on a budget proposal this year has been lugubrious. In August, President Wilson evidently decided that the best approach was to frighten everyone with gloomy predictions of catastrophe. A major purpose of the Administration’s hand wringing over a prospective disaster that President Roy Wilson and his Senior Administrators hoped would frighten Union leaders and their members into accepting salary concessions in the face of the inevitable crisis. The Administration first tried to sell a financial analysis of the situation that assumed that the state would claw back a month’s allocation from the Fiscal 2019-20 budget allocation to the University of roughly $20 million, and a cut of another $20 million from our coming Fiscal 2020-21 year. There was much hand wringing and rending of garments among Senior Administrators. A document was circulated by the Interim Vice President for Finance that forecast 64 layoffs of employees, 2/3rds from the members of the University’s Unions.

The Deans and Division heads were instructed to draft budgets for the coming year with 5% and 10% cuts. The Deans and Vice Presidents immediately went into “Chicken Little” acts. They told anyone who would listen, particularly among their Faculty and Academic Staff members, that there were cuts coming that would involve furloughs and layoffs in order to meet the crisis. Unfortunately for the arguments of President M. Roy Wilson and his Senior Administrators, the sky did not fall, and subsequent events have finally produced a proposed budget from them to be submitted to the Board of Governors that does not posit either $40, or $30, or $20 million deficits, all numbers previously predicted. The final 20-21 Fiscal Year Budget has a $12 million deficit that is covered by University reserves. It is to be noted that there is no mention in the document of layoffs or furloughs, but the devil is in the details, most of which are missing from this document. In the Academic Senate Budget Committee meeting on Monday, October 26th, the Administration stated that there would be personnel reductions associated with a reorganization of our Computing & Information Technology Division. That reorganization seems to have more to do with personnel reduction goals rather than a rationalization of technological services. There is no mention of reducing the growing number in the executive class of Senior Administrators in the Budget document.

The response of our Union to the ongoing political machinations of the Wilson Administration was to commission an analysis of the financial situation of the University. It was done and it is available on our website (https://www.aaupaft.org/home). It is a careful analysis that is based on data available from University sources, the annual University financial audits, and information from IPEDS, the database of the U.S. Department of Education. All data sources used in the analysis are documented. There were many conclusions to the study, but among the key findings was that the University had $184 million in unrestricted reserves that could be accessed to meet any possible deficit. The Administration questioned this, saying it would be unwise and financially irresponsible to delve into these reserves, yet ultimately President Wilson authorized the use of $12 million from them to balance the Budget being presented to the Board of Governors this week.

The Financial Analysis that the Union commissioned also had a number of other findings. It revealed the Administrative bloat was characteristic of the Wilson Administration (2014-2020). For example, Senior Executives increased in number during this period by 17.5%, while Faculty numbers fell by 8.8%, yet there has never been a mention of layoffs for these Executives. The Administration’s focus was always on layoffs and furloughs for Faculty, Academic Staff and other represented and unrepresented employees. In 2020, we have fewer tenure-track Faculty members (39%) than in 2014 when Wilson came to WSU. There are a number of other failings of the Wilson Administration documented in the analysis, but here the focus is on the Budget process this year.

I do not know what the Board of Governors will make of this Budget document with its opaque categories and lack of detail. This year’s proposal is unlike previous Budget proposals in that there is much less specificity than they included. They had much greater detail in the presentation of the budgets for the Divisions and the Schools and Colleges. But we should be grateful that the Administration’s previous political posturing on the budget that was premised on a need for layoffs, furloughs and dramatic cuts is missing. Moreover, it is worthwhile to note that the final proposed Budget is balanced through the use of the University’s unrestricted reserves that were identified in the Union’s analysis as the most obvious source to use to address any shortfall this year.

This present Budget proposal marks but one battle in a continuing conflict with the Administration over how to deal with the longer-run challenges that the University faces. The number of high school graduates in Michigan is declining. We must address how to make our programs and degrees more attractive to get our fair share of them to come to WSU. We must reexamine our faltering efforts to increase funding from the National Institutes of Health and other prestigious agencies that support research universities. We will return to these and many other issues in the future. Be assured, your Union will continue to work to protect the interests of our members against Administration attacks as the University moves towards a future with many pitfalls and uncertainties.

--

Charles J. ParrishPresident, AAUP-AFT, Local 6075, WSU ChapterVice President-at-Large, AFT MichiganPresident, AAUP Michigan ConferenceMember-at-Large, National Council, AAUP5057 Woodward Avenue, Suite 3301Detroit, MI 48202313.577.1750