Senate’s Student Life committee mulls responses to budget crisis

By Andrew Maloney

Questions about the status of the University budget have refused to go away, and the Urbana-Champaign Senate Student Life Committee sought some clarification Thursday.

The group solicited Mike Andrechak, a representative from the Provost’s office, to discuss University plans to deal with the impact of the state and nationwide financial situation.

Some of the financial issues addressed included the state’s own budget crisis as well as tuition costs and potential ways of managing University income to allay the effects of the sagging economy. Both Andrechak and Renee Romano, vice chancellor for student affairs, emphasized the importance of the problem and said the University would be prudent in dealing with fiscal matters.

“Budget issues are high on my agenda,” Romano said. “We’re being asked to restrict the number of new hires and the number of purchases.”

Andrechak also stressed the importance of managing future expenditures conservatively.

“In the long run, we’ll have to find ways to run as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Andrechak said. “We’ve worked overtime finding ways to minimize the effect on students.”

Like Romano, Andrechak mentioned that the budget would be controlled in part by reducing both the number of hires and the number of University expenditures. But there is also ambiguity on the state level. He added that the state had not been forthcoming with its own plan of action for getting out of debt and paying off the $100 million it owes to the University. He also indicated that there was confusion at all levels of government in dealing with the current economy, and that this could be why there are still so many questions about the University’s budget.

One thing that should be very clear after Thursday is how the budget is broken down. According to documents presented at the meeting, 44.5 percent of the University budget was funded by state taxes in 1980. For Fiscal Year 2009, that number is around 18.4 percent, and though the portion of the budget funded by tuition has nearly tripled-from 5.7 to 15.7 percent-the increase has not been significant enough to overcome the loss of support from state taxes.

“The thing that stands out is that we were very dependent on state funding,” Andrechak said. “And much of the percent increase in tuition costs is to offset the decline of state funds.”

One source of revenue could come in the form of donations. However, Andrechak said gifts given to the University often come with stipulations that make short-term budget relief difficult. The new bell tower on the south Quad, for example, “cost the University absolutely nothing,” but Andrechak admitted the funds used to build it could also have been directed elsewhere.

Andrechak also stressed clarity on the budget issue and told the committee that the state and nationwide economic situation would not be overcome quickly.

“This is not the type of climate where we’re going to bounce back in a few months,” Andrechak said. “In these challenging times, we want to be as transparent and as clear as we can on what we’re doing.”

But while there is still a level of uncertainty in dealing with the budget, Andrechak assured committee members that students would have a say in how the University could become more stable financially.

“Students will be part of the dialogue,” Andrechak said. “I can’t think of anything specifically we can ask the student senate to do, but we value the role of students in helping us understand what we’re doing and how to do it better.”