President Merten Discusses Budget Cuts

Posted: March 5, 2001 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: The following article was written by President Alan Merten regarding Gov. Jim Gilmore’s decision to reduce the budgets at all colleges and universities throughout Virginia and implement an immediate hiring freeze. The article, which outlines the effects this will have on the George Mason community, is printed in its entirety.

I am sure that most of you have now heard that the legislature was unable to agree on a set of amendments for the FY 2002 budget. As a result, the budget that was approved by the governor and General Assembly in the Spring 2000 session will go into effect on July 1, 2001. Unfortunately, that budget was based on a level of state revenues that has not materialized.

Under an executive order, the governor has frozen:

  • Capital: All ongoing and planned general fund projects, including our Academic IV construction project on the Fairfax Campus and the planning for Arlington II. Several maintenance reserve projects, and some of our campus handicap access and ADA projects, may also be in jeopardy.
  • Non-Personnel: All discretionary non-personnel expenditures, including travel, supplies and equipment, computers, and professional development.
  • Personnel: All new hiring of faculty and staff. Offers that have already been made will be honored. Where we have critical vacancies essential to our ongoing viability as an organization, we have requested, and we will continue to request, exemptions to this freeze.

To meet his legal requirement to maintain a balanced budget, Gov. Gilmore has proposed that George Mason University reduce its operating budget by over $3.5 million this year (FY 2001) and by nearly $7.5 million next year (FY 2002). The financial dilemma that this creates is pretty simple. With two-thirds of the fiscal year completed and most of our remaining funds committed, we have very few options for cutting this year’s budget. Over 80 percent of our budget is devoted to personnel, and our full-time personnel and adjunct faculty compensation obligations cannot be easily reduced. When these personnel commitments are combined with the fact that energy costs have increased this year nearly $1 million higher than originally budgeted, we have only a couple of totally unattractive, but equally unavoidable, paths to pursue. We must temporarily curtail all non-emergency, non-personnel expenditures effective immediately. In terms of personnel – beyond the state-imposed freeze – we will be discussing with the state the need to further reduce these costs.

We have been receiving mixed signals from Richmond on the proposed budget reductions. On the one hand, we have been advised that layoffs and furloughs should not be necessary this fiscal year. On the other hand, there is no way for the university to absorb this size of a budget reduction without reducing personnel costs. The secretary of education assures us that we will be advised of the actions that we need to pursue within the next 10 to 14 days.

The governor is expected to call a special legislative session for the end of March to reconsider the budget. My sincere hope is that at this time they will make a decision on the budget, and the cuts will no longer need to be implemented. Until that time however, we need to follow the governor’s executive order.

As we try to follow the governor’s order, you will have a variety of questions regarding the peration of your areas. We will try to clarify issues as they arise, but in the meantime, keep checking with your supervisors and the deans and vice presidents.

You have all contributed so much to creating what we have achieved at George Mason. It is frustrating to find ourselves in this position, but we will not let it stop our momentum. I will do everything within my power to persuade our political leaders to provide us with the necessary resources to meet the needs of our dynamic Northern Virginia region. We have a track record – thanks to your collective efforts – of superior academic quality and administrative effectiveness. There may be no better return on investment than the resources allocated to George Mason University.

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