Ad Hoc Group Hosts “Let’s Talk” Forum on the Budget

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In an effort to improve transparency and continue communication about the proposed budget cuts, the Ad Hoc Financial Planning Group hosted an open Let’s Talk forum this past Tuesday in Bond Memorial Hall. The discussion is the second of two forums held during business hours to facilitate input from faculty and staff as well as students before the December 4th Board of Managers meeting. Members of both the Ad Hoc Financial Planning Group and the administration were present to field concerns and answer questions about the budget.

English Literature Professor and Ad Hoc Committee member Nat Anderson facilitated the forum, which had a wide attendance of College employees, including representatives from EVS, Athletics, the Deans’ and Financial Aid Office, and Dining Services.

The permanency of the recommendations being made to the Board was the first topic of discussion. One student was confused about which cuts were definite as opposed to “just on the table.” Another student was particularly concerned about the “order” of cuts, hoping financial aid would be the very last option in the last phase of cuts. Anderson emphasized that all released cuts were still being studied and negotiated, with some more definite than others. The Board of Managers will only approve (or defer) the final budget for the upcoming year in February.

Committee member and professor of chemistry Tom Stephenson later added that budget recommendations always aimed at a “moving target.”

“The assumptions upon which suggested cuts are made are always changing–-for better or for worse,” Stephenson asserted, citing the surprising $125 million anonymous gift recently donated to Amherst College.

One staff member voiced strong concern about proposed cuts to the employee benefit bank and restructuring of the health plan. Several members of the Ad Hoc Group stated that the current College benefits package (which they asserted was generous compared to that of other institutions) could not be sustained wisely and that proposed cuts would, in Anderson’s words, help to “defray the costs of increased healthcare premiums.”

Several employees present also had questions about compensation. There is currently a salary freeze in place for all College employees. One member of the audience added that the College’s “decisions aren’t independent of what other schools are doing. Financial aid and faculty salaries are necessary to attract the best students, faculty, and administrators.”

Anderson did emphasize, however, that the Committee decided that they would “rather freeze salaries than cut some in expense of others.” According to Anderson, the Ad Hoc Group specifically looked to avoid layoffs.

Another staff member had additionally heard that the College would be phasing out its tuition grant for children of employees, a rumor Vice President of Human Resources Melanie Young firmly refuted. The College presently covers 50% of tutition for any undergraduate institution children of College staff attend.

The tuition grant is, however, capped at 42% of Swarthmore’s going tuition, and will be reduced to 40% of the tuition as part of the proposed budget cuts. The maximum grant will still amount to approximately $15,000. Young added that the Ad Hoc group is also considering changes in the qualifications (e.g. extending employment tenure required) for the tuition grants.

There are still approximately $1 million in cuts to be made in order to reach the ideal $8 million plan. Anderson says that the Ad Hoc Group is carefully studying various possibilities, “looking particularly at how cuts will affect the long-term health of the institution.” Several curricular reductions have been suggested, including increasing the size of the school and further cutting department budgets.

According to Anderson, the three main curricular budget reduction options involve decreasing the number of tenure track positions, reducing temporary leave replacements, and slashing faculty salaries. Some of these cuts are already in place; Stephenson says replacement for retiring faculty is “no longer a given.”

Increased class size is a natural byproduct of these particular cuts. Students present at the discussion asked whether the College could move towards greater van and class schedule synchronicity with Haverford and Bryn Mawr to alleviate the effects of class lotteries.

Students present were also curious about the Honors budget, which is not being cut in the current round of proposals. In fact, there is no explicit “honors budget,” which Provost Connie Hungerford says is part of administrative and departmental budgets. Funds for honors examiners have actually been increasingly slashed over the past 5 years.

Anderson closed the discussion with a call to “extend the conversation as the budget proposal is fine-tuned” and encourage feedback as the Ad Hoc Group continues its long-term strategic planning of the budget. The group is soliciting questions or concerns about the budget on their website.

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