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USU is facing budget crisis

Many programs have already suffered cuts

LOGAN — Legislative cuts to higher education have already taken their toll on Utah schools, but more budget cuts may be on the way as soon as July.

At Utah State University, more budget cuts could mean fewer faculty, programs and students.

"Our colleges and universities are on a collision course with quality," said USU President Kermit L. Hall. "If the state of Utah will not support our ability to keep our work force, we will reduce our work force."

Hall met with USU vice presidents and deans this past week to formulate a final plan for possible cuts to the school's budget. When the plan is released in early March, it will outline the actions to be taken if the Legislature additionally cuts anywhere from 2.5 to 6.5 percent. But some leaders aren't sure what more can be trimmed without doing permanent harm.

"Higher education is an economic engine creating jobs in the state. So when you start cutting education, you're really cutting the fuel that drives Utah's economy," said English department head Jeff Smitten. "It's a process of slow strangulation."

Departments like English and journalism have small operating costs with about 95 percent of their budgets devoted to faculty salaries. These departments are part of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, which has already taken one of the biggest budget hits so far, more than a half million dollars in cuts. Like them, many other departments at USU have already reduced budgets to a minimum.

"We've given up about all we can," Smitten said. "This is the worst I've ever seen and it's only going to get worse."

For most departments, the Legislature's projected 5 percent cut in July would mean layoffs. The first to go would be adjunct faculty, Smitten said, but for his department that would be the instructors of general education English courses required for all USU students.

"That would create even more of a bottleneck in those freshmen and sophomore courses," he said. Because of the hiring freeze instituted last spring, some colleges are already short on faculty.

The College of Business is lacking 13 professors, driving up student to teacher ratios, which means the century-old college may lose its national accreditation. One of the contingency plans reported in the campus newspaper, The Utah Statesman, is sending up to 600 students home to keep the accreditation.

"We're going to lose faculty no matter what," said journalism department head Ted Pease. "We have no options. We've got no place left to go."

The university has a faculty to student ratio of 26-1. The journalism department's ratio is 55-1. The freeze prevents them from lowering that ratio, but a lack of money keeps them from hiring more faculty anyway. A 5 percent cut to their total budget would cost $25,000. But the department's annual operating budget is only $15,000, which has been allotted to copies, other office supplies and equipment.

"We could cut phones in our department, but that's only $5,000. But what's a communication department that can't communicate?" Pease said. "We could do smoke signals or have a bake sale."

While most colleges on campus are hurting, there is one that is not. "The governor's initiative money is special. We can still hire and add new faculty," said College of Engineering Dean Scott Hinton. "It gives us the opportunity to grow."

Under Gov. Leavitt's engineering initiative, Utah programs receive money to enhance engineering programs giving technology a boost.

"It's in the neighborhood of about $1 million," Hinton said.

Additionally, the funds are only given if the university matches the contribution through tuition increases that take effect in August. Of the $2 million to be raised next school year by the increase, half will go to engineering, allowing for the additional money from the governor's initiative. A portion of the remaining $1 million will be dispersed to other colleges on campus to hire required faculty to help some departments keep their heads above water.

"The engineering college is getting tuition increases and . . . we're getting nothing," Pease said.