February 20, 2009

Goff-Crews outlines possible budget cuts

Vice President for Campus Life Kimberly Goff-Crews presented her department’s tentative budget cuts at a student forum Tuesday, proposing decreased funding for campus building maintenance, eliminating underutilized programs, cutting student jobs and most controversially, closing Reynolds Club on Sundays, a position she backed away from following student criticism.

Goff-Crews, who sent out an e-mail earlier this month outlining areas she would not cut—health services, financial aid, and career services—sought student feedback on all of her proposals, citing a desire to incorporate student concerns in upcoming decisions. The meeting was primarily attended by department heads that work under Goff-Crews, though about 20 students also came to offer critiques

“We believe we have enough cuts to meet $3.6 million, but are we reducing the right things?” she said in an interview with the Maroon after the meeting. “That’s why we’re taking this pause.”

Goff-Crews’s plan broke down into four categories—program elimination, service-level reduction, operations-hours reduction and revenue generation (see sidebar)—though she did not provide any specific monetary values for her proposals. Goff-Crews said most changes would take place next year. Her division oversees a wide variety of campus services, including the housing system, student activities, career advising, and graduate affairs.

Students met many of the proposals favorably, especially those plans that would streamline services or get rid of unnecessary ones. The potential elimination of 834-HELP phone line, which redirects users to other campus phone lines, elicited no complaints, in part because few knew of the service.

“The fact that you don’t know about it generally underscores why we should eliminate it,” Goff-Crews said at the meeting. She also plans to eliminate printing many campus publications, such as pamphlets, which she estimated could save up to $30,000 a year.

“To get to the goal [of $3.6 million] is not going to be a series of very large cuts, but looking at the tiny pockets,” she told the Maroon.

Student jobs may also be decreased: Student building manager positions are likely to be cut in Bartlett, Harper, and Stuart.

Other cuts, however, elicited objections, especially the proposal to close down the Reynolds Club on Sundays. Goff-Crews told students that according to her department, the building is only lightly used on Sundays, making it the most attractive day to close its doors. According to Sharlene Holly, director of the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, shutting down the student center on Sundays would save the University $10,000 to $15,000 a year, mostly in student wages for Hallowed Grounds employees and building managers.

Several students refuted Goff-Crews’s anecdotal evidence, claiming that Hutchinson Commons and the C-Shop are used regularly on Sundays for teacher’s assistant office hours, study groups and University Theater.

“We were seriously thinking about shutting down the Reynolds Club on Sunday. When we ran the numbers, that seemed to make sense,” Goff-Crews said. “But the students thought there was something about keeping it open that was culturally significant. And that’s more important than the numbers.”

She added, “I really have to stop and think about if that’s a good move on our part. I assume the students are right.”

Holly said her office will conduct a quantitative survey this week to determine precise student use of Reynolds Club per hour. Based on those figures, she will re-evaluate the building’s hours.

“What was interesting was T.A. office hours. Those are not things we would see in an official way—there’s no reservation for them,” Holly said.

At the meeting, Associate Vice President for Student Life in the College Bill Michel proposed a possible solution to complaints over the Reynolds Club. Since money had to be cut from somewhere, he suggested keeping the Reynolds Club open by taking $20,000 from whatever increase the Student Activities Fund receives next year, which is provided by students’ activity fees.

Student Government (SG) President and fourth-year Matt Kennedy was supportive of the overall plan to keep the student center open but was apprehensive about the implications of using the student activities fee as a stop-gap measure.

“Yes, it would be a legitimate use. That said, I think it’s something that the University should not look to as anything but a very short-term solution,” Kennedy said.

Given the limited resources SG has to foster campus community, Kennedy took issue with the Reynolds Club even being considered as a cut.

“It’s important that [given student feedback] it’s still open. But from the University’s perspective, that space should never be something that makes it to the chopping block,” he said.

After the discussion about Reynolds Club, other suggestions by Goff-Crews were met with less resistance. In response to third-year Maurice Dawson’s complaint that closing Ratner several hours earlier on Friday and Sunday nights would be an irritating change, another student attempted to provide perspective.

“The point of all this is we have to cut something. Reorganizing workout hours is completely acceptable and doable in the scheme of things,” the student said.

Kennedy said he was pleased that the cuts didn’t signify a systemic change in services but was worried that some organizations would be hit harder. He especially pointed to club sports, which may see a 30 percent funding cut.

“The portion of the [SG–distributed] student activities fee that goes to them, small as it is, will be increased in response to that [cut],” Kennedy said.

Goff-Crews also mentioned ways to raise University revenue, such as bringing more groups to campus during the summer to use U of C facilities and increasing the sizes of summer camps run by the physical education department.

“At this point, we’re turning people away,” she told the Maroon. “We haven’t really gone after business in a systematic way.”

Despite the small number of students in attendance and Goff-Crews’s cited commitment to student input, she said that there isn’t any more time to solicit further feedback.

“At this point, we now have to start making decisions,” she said. Goff-Crews’s departments will have discussions next week to determine a final plan, which will be “likely decided, but not necessarily communicated by the end of the quarter,” she said.

Most of the planned changes will take place next fall, but some could begin next quarter.

“Those might be staff reductions, but they wouldn’t be related to things that have a direct impact on students,” Goff-Crews said.

Goff-Crews will appear with President Zimmer in an SG forum Monday to address concerns about the University-wide response to impending budget cuts.