Fernandes addresses budget cuts and community concerns

Thor Tobiassen

As the school year draws to a close, President Jane Fernandes and the Guilford College administration have begun to provide details about their plan to balance the budget. However, important questions remain and when those will be answered is uncertain.

Fernandes’ first year has been a roller coaster as Guilford’s dire financial situation unfolded. The school’s revenue is currently $2 million short of its expenditures and the deficit could balloon to $4 million next year. Trustees and administrators have repeatedly stated that all options are on the table for dealing with the shortfall, causing fears that programs such as the Center for Continuing Education and the Bonner Center will experience cuts.

On April 20, Fernandes delivered a speech to a packed Founders Hall lounge outlining her plan to balance the budget. The major announcement was a long- expected round of position cuts, totaling 40 staff and 17 faculty.

According to Fernandes, some of the to-be-cut positions are already vacant, and some are held by faculty and staff who are considering resigning or retiring.

The other announcement was the delay of the program review process. Fernandes had given groups of faculty, staff and consultants the task of analyzing Guilford’s programs and departments, recommending which ones to be downsized or eliminated.

She said that there had been insufficient time for the committees to complete their sizable task and that the process will be pushed to next year.

Fernandes described her plan as a framework for “right-sizing” the College to focus on performing more appropriately sized tasks exceptionally well.

“Service is the manifestation of compassion, so the cultivation of compassion is another distinguishing characteristic of a Guilford education that sets us apart,” said Fernandes in an email interview.

Fernandes expects the budget to be balanced by the end of the 2016 – 2017 school year. The administration will reveal more specifics about the new budget plan after the board of trustees meets in May.

Guilford’s budget shortfall stems from its declining enrollment and failure to reduce the size of faculty and staff as enrollment fell. According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Andy Strickler, the school’s enrollment has fallen from a high point in 2010 – 2011 of 1,400 traditional students and 1,300 CCE students to its current level of 1,190 traditional students and 820 CCE students. Faculty and staff numbers, however, remained nearly the same throughout this period.

CCE students in particular fear the effects of the cuts on their programs. Some night and weekend classes have already been cut, and rumors of the CCE student lounge’s relocation from Hendricks Hall have swirled around campus.

Student Government Association President and senior Monica Jones has criticized administrative transparency regarding CCE.

“We have not been updated on any of the issues,” said Jones. “We are just as lost as we were before the meetings … transparency does not exist any longer. After the meeting on Monday, I also now question the honesty and integrity after hearing the president tell two different groups (of people) different answers in regard to the same topics.”

The recent revelation that former president Kent Chabotar and other administrators received large salary bonuses in previous years increased the outrage.

“Personally, I think it is unlikely the College will ask any employee to return money paid out last year,” said Professor of Geology and budget reconciliation group ember Dave Dobson in an email interview. “I am hopeful that the college will form a community group to look at compensation at Guilford with an eye toward stewardship of our financial resources, equitable and fair compensation for all employees and a living wage for our lowest-paid members.

“That’s something we made good initial progress on at the community forum on April 8, and I’m hopeful that Jane and the board will continue to support those efforts.”

Incoming Community Senate President and sophomore Molly Anne Marcotte says that she has already been meeting with administrators and faculty about how to minimize the cuts’ impact on student life.

“I can only hope that the budget cuts do not pull deeply away from the resources we have on this campus for students of a marginalized social identity,” said Marcotte in an email interview.

“My hope in these meetings is to take what I understand about the student experiences, needs and concerns on campus, learn about each administrator/person of leverage’s position and roles on campus, present those student concerns and find the people with the correct roles to address those concerns.

“As long as I hold this position, I intend for no student voice to go unspoken and no student concern to go unheard.”

With the year closing on a note of continued uncertainty, Fernandes offered thoughts on transparency in an email to students.

“I am reminded of the idea that if you like sausage, you probably won’t want to watch it being made,” Fernandes wrote. “Transparency means watching the sausage being made … so as we proceed with the messy, painful process of making the sausage of budget balancing, let’s approach it with a sense of trust in each other, whose points of view inform and enlighten our collective thinking.”

For an anxious student body, the waiting game has begun again.

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