Over the last several weeks this administration has been engaged in the process of developing a balanced budget for submission to Baton Rouge on August 1, 2012. That effort has been undertaken without any support or even inquiries from the Louisiana Board of Regents or the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, their staff or the respective board membership.
Simply stated, all of Louisiana’s 14 four-year universities and 22 two-year colleges have found reaching a balanced budget a solitary effort. To date, we have only heard from LSU and the University of Southeastern Louisiana regarding the dollar and programmatic impact of the 2012-2013 appropriation from the State.
As community members have seen, local media coverage of planned personnel layoffs and budget cuts have been quite limited in nature. The reason for the delayed release of information from this administration is directly attributable to the timing of decisions at the State level to approve aspects of the university’s plan.
Monday afternoon of last week the Louisiana Civil Service Commission approved the university’s plan to lay off specific classified positions. While some initial notice had been given to affected personnel, without the State’s formal approval we could not initiate the actual notification process and, in some cases, the bumping that would ensue based on employee seniority. That notification process began last Tuesday morning and was completed by week’s end.
For obvious reasons, the university wanted to ensure that affected employees heard first from supervisors and Human Resources personnel before steps were taken to release information on areas of the university affected by the budget cuts to the broader public.
Below is the primary information being released to the press this afternoon.
The university’s total operating budget – $52 million – reflects a $5.3 million reduction in state funding and self-generated revenue since July 2011.
More than $4.6 million of the cut has resulted from a decrease in state funding combined with an increase in state-mandated expenses, including retirement costs and insurance premiums. The remaining $737,000 decrease is attributed to a loss in tuition and other self-generated revenue due to an anticipated decline in enrollment – a direct result of higher tuition rates and increased admission standards.
It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of these cuts, specifically the cumulative effect of 10 reductions over the past four years. The decimation of higher education in this state is unlike anything I have seen in my 40-plus years of professional experience.
The university’s budget reduction plan includes the layoff of 28 employees (two faculty and 26 staff). Also included is the elimination of 65 currently vacant positions (20 faculty and 45 staff), many of which were only recently vacated, bringing the total faculty and staff reductions to 122 (33 faculty and 89 staff) since 2008-09. In all, this totals a 16 percent reduction in employees (12 percent for faculty and 18 percent for staff) while enrollment has only decreased 5 percent since the move to selective admissions.
I deeply regret being forced to lay off valuable employees who provide needed services for our students. There are no easy answers. Nicholls has not published the effect of the budget cuts until now because we needed to go through the appropriate process of notifying those being laid off. This was an agonizing process, leaving good people jobless and introducing increased burdens to those left behind – the people who haven’t received a pay raise, unless they were promoted, since 2007.
Additional cuts were made in the following areas: operating and professional services, travel, supplies and library reference materials.
It is important to note that our students, as well as all students in the state, are now paying more and getting less because of the series of state budget cuts and the 10 percent per-year tuition increases.
The ratio of state support to tuition/fees has gone from 61 to 39 percent to the other way around, 40 to 60 percent. State funding has shrunk from almost $36 million in 2008-09 to less than $19 million – a decrease of more than $17 million, or 48 percent.
Make no mistake, we’re talking about the future of higher education in the Bayou Region. It is important to remember that around 60 percent of our incoming freshmen are still first-generation college students, many of whom have Nicholls as their only choice for a four-year degree because they are unable to travel two to three hours to a regional university and are unable to afford the cost of room and board on another campus. Put simply, the lack of state support for higher education in Louisiana is a tragedy – and an incredible mistake by Louisiana state government.
Despite budget challenges, we remain committed to protecting, as much as possible, the academic core of the university and fulfilling our mission to provide higher education opportunities to the people of our service region.
Even with our budget greatly reduced, we must be very cautious in our expenditures because the budget is on a very thin line. I am asking that departments, both academic and support, only purchase what is absolutely necessary to meet our mission. As vacancies occur, we will need to evaluate the necessity of filling them prior to the next fiscal year.
I truly appreciate all everyone has done to meet the needs of our students and this region. I know it is getting more and more difficult, but I ask each of you to pull together to continue to make this a great university. I am proud to be a part of what we have put together – even in these most trying of times.
We must remain the people we are as we relate to our students, our region, and each other.