The University of South Dakota will be forced to do some belt tightening next year as it deals with nearly a $1.2 million cut in its $150 million budget.
The university, for now, can withstand the reductions, said President James Abbott after he shared the decisions that have been made to operate with reduced funding before faculty and staff at the first of two budget forums held in Farber Hall Friday.
It is a process that, if continued, will eventually take a toll on the university, he told the Vermillion Plain Talk.
"You can't cut your way to success," Abbott said. "There are some people that are very disappointed that our computational sciences Ph.D is being cut, but we tried to look at the long-term prognosis – credit hour generation and where we may do the least damage.
"I generally start with administration, and then go to non-faculty exempt areas, and CSA (Career Service Act) and faculty is pretty much last, because you can't have a great school without a great faculty, " he said. "That's always the last place we cut … but there were some cuts (in that area). There had to be."
The reduction in funding made it necessary to eliminate three positions, specifically two faculty positions and one CSA position.
Abbott also told USD personnel during the forum that nine positions, specifically five faculty, two CSA and two non-faculty exempt (NFE), will experience reductions in contracts.
Seventeen vacant positions will be eliminated next year. Those positions include five CSA, eight faculty, and four NFE.
Eleven new positions will be created: seven faculty, two CSA and two NFE.
A net of 10 graduate assistant positions will be eliminated, however, specifically two in the school of medicine Ph.D program, two in the computer science Ph.D program, and one in the president's office.
Abbott didn't have a specific breakdown of the remaining five graduate assistant cuts, noting that they will "spread around" various departments at the university.
"We probably will not be asked, nor should we be asked, to maintain the elimination of these positions forever," Abbott told university personnel during the forum. "But when faced with a cut, if we possibly can, my thought was it would best to cut a vacant position. I would guess that some of them (cut vacant positions) will have to be reinstated at some point."
An example of that, Abbott noted, can be found in the staffing of the university's Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) division.
"Last year, we cut two HPER and a chair position," he said. "We knew we were going to have to put them back, and this year, we are putting them back, and those three are part of the three new positions being created.
"As we move along in the course of being the University of South Dakota, things change," he said. "Certain positions have to be added; some have to be reduced depending on the student load, etc. In this process, we also created 11 new positions. Not all of these positions are full time."
Non-personnel areas of the university's budget were targeted for cuts first, Abbott said. "We cut travel in some places … we tried to do that if we could, if it was reasonable. We wanted to do that rather than cut people."
Approximately 25 percent of the net cut will be made in the university's operating expenses. Benefits to USD personnel will be reduced 9 percent, Tech Fellows will bear approximately a 10.3 percent cut, and the revenue allocated for graduate assistants will be reduced by a bit more than 16 percent.
"It certainly has not been a pleasant process," Abbott told the USD staff. "It's never fun, and I suspect that next year, it could be worse. But compared to what we were thinking could happen last year, it's not as bad as we thought it would be.
"We'll have a new Legislature, we'll have a new governor," he said, referring to the next time the action will be taken on the state budget, including funding for higher education. "We'll supposedly have a $100 million deficit, and we don't know how much of that they are going to backfill, so the impact will be uncertain."
Following the forum, Abbott noted that the likelihood that USD administrators will need to follow a similar path next year as it deals with further budget reductions won't make the process easier.
"Every year, it gets worse," he said. "I know it's an old cliché, but you cut the fat first, and then you cut the flesh, and pretty soon, you get down to bone. I hope we don't get to that point."
Abbott said it's not the first time USD has faced challenges and overcome them.
"When I came here 13 years ago, I think the problems were much deeper, just not as obvious," he said. "We certainly haven't been able to solve them all, but that time, our physical campus was fairly run down. Old Main had just been refurbished after 20 years of being boarded up in the middle of our campus. Many of our buildings were very old – the medical school was horrible, the business school was not appropriate, the list goes on and on.
"But even worse than that, I think, was our failure often times to attract what we wanted in terms of new positions," Abbott said. "We would get applicants and not get our first, second or third choices. That's not the way it is now. We've always hired good people, but the percentage of our first choices are significantly higher now, and for that, I'm truly grateful."
He is hoping that USD will be able to continue to be attractive to both excellent students and faculty.
"Last year, we cut around the edges. This year, we had to cut a program. Next year, if we have to take a significant cut, I don't know how that's avoidable," Abbott said. "Maybe we'll have 200 more freshmen than I thought we were going to have. Those kinds of things can cure some ills."
USD will offer new programs in nursing, and will be jump-starting its HPER program, which has a heavy appeal to many students.
"Next year, we're just going to have to take a look at the very same things we looked at this year – where can we cut and do the least damage, do we have vacant positions that we don't have to fill today, do we have faculty who have left that we can replace with an adjunct at a lower salary for a year or two? I don't like those things, but we have to do what we have to do."