Faculty discusses proposed budget, raises concerns

Members of Marshall University’s faculty convened at the Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre Wednesday to offer input on the proposed new budget model and tuition fee schedule.

The new model is anticipated to eliminate lab and course fees and increase administrative efficiency to implement a multi-year plan instead of the traditional year-to-year budget.

Mary Ellen Heuton, chief financial officer, said the urge to pursue a more centralized structure was prompted after a series of budget cuts and year-to-year budgets had not been as successful as anticipated.

“We’ve been working with the budget work group and constituent representatives across campus in sharing information and getting feedback,” Heuton said. “We’ve been working with the deans, different budget unit leaders. It’s been a very different process in the past.”

With the former system, colleges could place equipment and operational requests and be funded by the incremental budget.

The repercussions of uniform budget drops can be seen by the university libraries, which experiences budget increases ranging between 6 and 9 percent each year, Heuton said.

“If we give everyone 3 percent, the [libraries] will have to cut because you can take 3 percent, but your cost has gone up 6 percent and the math doesn’t work,” Heuton said.

The proposed budget will fuel facility updates to areas and departments that have not had access to revenue resources.

Heuton said an entrepreneurial approach to finance, while admired, should not have to drive day-to-day operation.

“We’re trying to look at things more comprehensively so we can make better decisions in how we’re doing things,” Heuton said. “Cash flow is important. If we understand what the timing is, we can shift some things around.”

Heuton said departments may be asked to hold off on purchasing certain equipment until sufficient funding is set aside. Simplifying tuition fee structure for the student population is also a primary concern.

“We know it’s challenging for students from a financial aid perspective to come to college,” Heuton said. “One of the other goals is to find a way to make [rates] simpler for students.”

Heuton said the new budget would eliminate course and lab fees for students but still require a college or program fee depending on each college’s unique structure.

Dallas Brozik of the Division of Finance and Economics expressed concerns over transparency and budget availability for faculty.

“If we try something entrepreneurial and all the money goes back into Old Main and disappears into the black hole with a promise of ‘we will do the right things with it, we will encumber ourselves in the future,’ we’ve heard that song before,” Brozik said.

Brozik said the proposed system will involve massive amounts of micromanagement on behalf of the dean’s staff, and neither time nor staffing will be easy

Heuton said she would ensure the new system would replace previous dysfunction to improve communication and operation.

“I understand that [faculty] must make a lot of faith in what we’re trying to do, and I know that’s scary,” Heuton said. “I know what’s happened in the past, and I know there used to be an equipment fund and then it went away, so we want to document all of this and explain what we’re trying to do.”

Heuton said the uniform budget cuts would no longer be the first route taken for preserving funds.

“We’re not going to cut our way to prosperity,” Heuton said. “We know we can’t continue to cut. Belt-tightening is not going to solve our problems… We’re trying to do the right thing.”

Heuton was unavailable to comment on additional specifics of proposed tuition changes.

Lexi Browning can be contacted at [email protected]