Administrators Seek Budget Suggestions Via ‘Mason Ideas’ Web Page

Posted: March 4, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron and Daniel Walsch

“Mason Ideas,” a new vehicle designed to solicit ideas from the university community on ways Mason can best navigate the challenges of state budget cuts, was unveiled yesterday by Provost Peter Stearns and Senior Vice President Morrie Scherrens at an open forum in the Johnson Center Cinema.

By using “Mason Ideas,” the two campus leaders urged all faculty and staff members to submit any thoughts, ideas or even questions they might have regarding the current budget situation.

Because the budget cuts affect everyone, “we want to give as many people as possible an opportunity to have input in what is ultimately decided,” said Stearns. “Everything will be thoughtfully considered.”

“Mason Ideas” was created by the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting. It may be accessed through the Office of Budget and Planning web site.

With Virginia’s legislative session concluded last Saturday, Mason has a better idea of how its 2009-10 budget will shape up, but the administrators stressed that their comments were meant as an interim report since details are still being worked out.

Stearns noted that funds expected from the federal government’s stimulus package to the state government “will allow us to reduce very slightly the average unit reduction” to about 1.2 percent. Stimulus funds will also allow the university to limit tuition and fee hikes, keeping them out of double-digit percentage territory.

In other positive developments, the current situation will restore some eminent scholar funds that were cut, but not all; provide money to furnish and equip Founders Hall, the new Arlington Campus building under construction; and provide funds for the Belmont Bay Science Center.

At the same time, the administrators cautioned that this relief provided by the stimulus package is “one time.” Expecting further belt-tightening in the next budget cycle, they are planning “a little bit of reserve to hold us in [2011],” Stearns said, a strategy they have employed since 2008.

Scherrens also commented that the university is planning for “only modest enrollment growth” of about 50 to 100 full-time equivalent students in fall 2009, although “our applications are strong, and our other vital statistics are strong,” he said.

No salary increases can be expected in the next budget, Scherrens said, adding,“Although I am unaware of any specific layoff actions, some units may pursue restructuring strategies that could include layoffs. However, at this time there is no need for university-wide layoff actions.”

In response to a question about a state-mandated tuition cap, Stearns said that report was incorrect and there is currently no cap.

The state budget next goes to the governor for his review and approval.

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