More budget cuts

By Teresa Williams

Every year, the schedule for Orientation Weekend includes a picnic and involvement fair on the Founders Hall lawn Sunday afternoon before classes begin for the semester. However, this school year features a change from this tradition. Rather than taking place outside Founders, the picnic was cancelled with the involvement fair relocated to Upper Convo. The event is scheduled from 4:30 to 6:30 this Sunday.

While some believe that the recent budget issues played a factor in this change, the university maintained that the new dinner in convo and the involvement fair in Upper Convo will remain an enjoyable experience for the students, faculty, and staff members in attendance.

“Of course budgets are of concern but only to the point that we retain quality of service and product,” Director of Auxiliary Services Matt Portner said.  

In terms of the future for the location of the picnic, Portner said, “We have not ruled anything out for next year.”

While the setting differs from the past, this year’s event will include a sundae bar in Upper Convo during the Involvement Fair.

“We have created a special evening for the students outside of the normal meal cycle that will involve recipes and items presented by your chef, Kevin Burke,” Portner said.  

General Manager of Dining Operations Fred Geib indicated that dinner will also feature a giveaway of a donated bike from Pepsi.

Aside from the picnic, students will recognize other changes across campus upon returning from summer break. Many of these changes revolve around the difficulties regarding the university budget.

During an All-Institutional meeting in the Hugo Young Theatre June 4, Ashland University President Frederick Finks outlined the budget issues the university is facing. While reporters were not allowed in the meeting, Finks met with a Collegian reporter after the meeting.

In late May, 27 employees lost their jobs through what Finks is calling a realignment process. These individuals included a range of academic, non-academic, salaried and non-salaried employees from both the main campus and extension offices. Additionally, the men’s soccer team was eliminated on May 28 and the print shop was closed. Earlier in May, stipends for department chairs summer work were also eliminated.

Finks, however, said this should not be viewed as budget cuts. He said the university simply reduced the budgets of many areas and reallocated this money to other segments of the university.

According to Finks, these monetary reallocations would allow different sections to maximize their funds and potentially generate revenue for AU. Specifically, he pointed to “development and auxiliary services” as one of these key areas. He further indicated another portion of the funds would help correct issues in the business office that arose out of questionable budgeting practices. A minimal amount would also be set aside in a small contingency fund for a safety net.

While arriving at the decisions, the university’s administration focused on areas that they consider in decline. Once these were identified, the vice presidents of the respective segments decided which positions would be cut. Out of all the colleges and departments on campus, the College of Education eliminated the greatest number of employees.

In 2008, AU also experienced budget cuts and 48 people lost their jobs. However, many were hired after that period once it was determined that the need still existed for these positions. Five years later, budget issues persist on the AU campus and employees faced similar circumstances.

Perhaps the most controversial decision thus far involved the elimination of the men’s soccer team. Finks said the university will not lose money by cutting soccer since the team does not generate ticket revenue. While deeply affecting the players and coaches in the program, he feels the decision will lack major implications in the future. He believes that most students will attend AU despite the absence of a soccer team. Although lacking the same level of attractiveness for future recruits, Finks understands they might attend a different school if interested in playing college soccer. Essentially, the amount of non-soccer playing students and individuals not invested in the team outweigh those involved with the program.

He also explained that they will pay the coaches’ salary until further notice and honor the athletes who have soccer scholarships until they graduate from AU, but he thought many of them will most likely continue their athletic careers at a different school.

In addition, Finks described the trend among colleges of cutting sports teams when facing financial difficulties. He said this has been considered among many comparable colleges to AU. Hillsdale College cut six teams in the past. When asked about whether the soccer program might be revived at a later date, Finks indicated, “I don’t foresee it happening.”

Besides the men’s soccer program, another central topic of the budget issue involved the business office. Former Vice President of Business Affairs Jim Kirtland recently lost his job. As Finks explained, they are looking for someone with “fresh leadership practices.”

Finks said nothing illegal or malicious occurred, but he realized the need to improve the situation and get the business office back on track while investigating budget issues during the past year. Finks said that “poor communication” encompassed one of the reasons why these practices persisted over the last few years. In other words, the procedures, details and expectations of behavior were not communicated effectively between the different levels of the university.

“We will make sure communication is happening with a better flow,” Finks said.

Besides these areas, the university faces other issues in the upcoming years. One of these entails the rising costs of college. People experience continuing difficulties to afford college in today’s turbulent economic times. He also noted that across the Midwest the number of 18-year-olds has decreased each year and results in fewer eligible candidates interested in attending college. Likewise, Finks described the competition among other universities offering similar programs.

However, Finks said that many other colleges have been experiencing these issues. A variety of other schools in Ohio have been forced to cut back and reconsider their budgets.

At the graduate level, Finks said the same difficulty competing with schools featuring similar MBA programs. He also said that as a result of the changes in public teaching requirements, fewer students obtain a Master’s degree in Education and thus decreased AU’s revenue from tuition.

Despite these challenges, Finks remains optimistic about the future.

“Donor confidence is at an all-time high,” Finks said.

He noted that alumni and other donations remain significant, with the Ashland Fund being three times more than last year.

However, the future is uncertain for the employees who have lost their jobs and the impacts these changes will have on students and the university as a whole.