University of Baltimore officials discuss plans for future financial stability
Faced with declining enrollment and a budget shortfall, University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke outlined his ideas Friday to secure the school’s financial future to a standing-room only crowd of students, faculty and staff.
To close a $4 million budget gap this year, the university already cut pay for nearly 400 staff members by requiring furlough days and instituted a hiring freeze, travel restrictions and limits on departmental spending.
“This is not just a budget session,” Schmoke said during the town hall meeting, “it’s a discussion about the future of this university, both long term and short term. … If we’re going to be financially stable and competitive, we’re going to have to do some reorganizing.”
To balance next year’s budget, operating budgets in departments across the university will need to be reduced, including a likely 7.4 percent cut over two years for the flagship law school, university officials said.
Administrators also laid out proposals for a slew of additional cost-saving measures — centralizing administrative services, consolidating under-enrolled programs, cutting back on Shuttle Bus hours, among others.
Schmoke assured the campus community that the university is not planning to dissolve the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences, an idea that had been floated previously, horrifying some faculty members.
“We all recognize we can’t cut our way into the future,” said Darlene Brannigan Smith, executive vice president and provost. “We’re looking at ways to have greater efficiency and effectiveness.”
But that college could see a roughly 8 percent reduction over two years, officials said.
“The people in the College of Arts and Sciences really don’t feel valued,” said Stephanie Gibson, president of the college’s faculty senate. “We feel like we’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting and now we’re getting to internal organs.”
Elsewhere, the business school would see a 5 percent cut, the president’s office would be chopped by 15 percent and the school police budget would go down 1.8 percent, according to the projections discussed Friday.
The law school reductions could be absorbed by not filling some faculty vacancies, said Ronald Weich, the school’s dean.
“The cut to the law school budget is certainly unfortunate but it’s not so deep as to impair our program,” he said. “I’m very confident we have sufficient resources to deliver an excellent legal education to our students.”
Schmoke said that, if he were forced to submit the budget today, he would need to eliminate about 25 positions, the majority of which are currently vacant. Five are instructional positions while 20 are in the administrative area, he said.
“We’re not talking about massive layoffs,” he said.
Schmoke promised he would not institute additional furloughs next year, and announced Friday that this year’s furloughs are being cut short. This is the last month that faculty and staff must take unpaid days off, he said.
Tuition is the university’s primary source of revenue, but enrollment has dropped by about 15 percent in the last five years.
When officials drafted this year’s budget, they had been “optimistic in expecting an increase in enrollment, which didn’t come in,” said Beth Amyot, the university’s newly named chief financial officer. “Then there was the shortfall.”
Amyot said the projected budget for the next two fiscal years is “very conservative in estimates.” She said it anticipates declining enrollment until 2021, which has been dubbed the turnaround year.
University officials have attributed the enrollment drop to fewer college-ready students in Baltimore and a severe decline in law school applications, mirroring nationwide trends.
Schmoke emphasized the need to recruit and retain students in order to right the university’s ship. He said the university is looking at ways to stage early interventions should students show warning signs of financial or academic struggles, as well as boosting its marketing efforts.
Many frustrated faculty and staff members said that it will be difficult to recruit new students as the university continues to cut funding for student services. There was some discussion Friday about cutting back at the gym facility and outsourcing student counseling services.
“We’re taking money away from the resources and services that directly touch students. That’ll make it harder to recruit,” said law school professor William Hubbard. “I worry about a spiral. I worry that we’re taking resources away from the parts of the university that drive student enrollment.”