Faculty Senate Meets for Budget Presentation

Posted: September 18, 2009 at 1:01 am, Last Updated: September 17, 2009 at 4:22 pm

By Robin Herron

At a special meeting called by the Faculty Senate on Sept. 16, Provost Peter Stearns and Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens gave an overview of the university’s 2010 fiscal year budget in light of budget cuts announced by Gov. Timothy Kaine last week.

The university’s share of the cuts, $17.6 million, is partially offset by federal stimulus money, resulting in a $9.1 million budget reduction.  By using approximately $3 million from tuition from the higher than expected fall enrollment and other sources, the actual impact on the budgets of Mason’s department units should be about $6.1 million, Scherrens explained. However, he pointed out that the stimulus money is one-time only, and “2011 and 2012 don’t look any better.”

Centrally, the university has made cuts in both administrative areas and academic units, and those units have the responsibility for determining where their cuts will be absorbed, Stearns and Scherrens stressed.

The university continues to explore ways to generate income from auxiliary enterprises and improve private support.  Fund raising was up in the past year in spite of the economic downturn.

In response to previous state cuts over the past year and a half, Stearns noted that the university is offering 50 fewer class sections this year than last, and average class size has increased from 26 to 28 students.

With respect to the one-day furlough of commonwealth employees announced by the governor, Scherrens said the university has sought clarification from the state on a number of issues, such as

  • when the furlough day can be taken
  • what categories of employees must be furloughed
  • whether the furlough pay cut can be taken in increments rather than in one paycheck

He said a three-hour conference call with Virginia agency representatives and other universities left these issues unresolved. However, Scherrens said, “I would say that all university employees should expect one day of unpaid leave no matter what your status is.” He added that things could change with a new governor and as a result of the legislative session. The university will not rush to schedule a furlough day.

In his announcement last week, the governor said the commonwealth would reduce its payments to the Virginia Retirement System for the final quarter of the 2010 fiscal year. Scherrens said details on this were still not firm, although there would not be any impact on “defined benefits” for VRS participants. He said he expected that, beginning with the new fiscal year next July, employees may have to contribute to the retirement plan.

With 1,500 more students enrolled than expected this fall, Mason will once again make the case to the legislature that the university needs more help to educate students. The “Richmond Ask” will include requests for more resources, employee compensation and student financial aid in order to provide accessible, affordable and quality degrees to meet workforce demand and contribute to the commonwealth’s economic development.

During comments and questions, individual faculty senators requested more details on a budget pie chart shown that grouped some administrative units together, as well as a breakdown of how funded research monies are allocated.

In closing remarks, Stearns refuted information sent in an e-mail to the Faculty Senate prior to the meeting that indicated his office had increased its staff by 200 percent in the past five years. The information was gleaned by comparing positions listed in the university telephone directory. However, Stearns pointed out that most of the positions were not new; the directory was reorganized and positions that had previously been listed separately are now included under the Office of the Provost listing.

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