University administrators announced last week that they may cut approximately $3 million in the academic affairs budget to help make up for an $8.2 million shortfall in next fiscal year’s general budget. While these cuts may in fact represent a sound financial policy for the University, they simultaneously would affect perception of University priorities. For many, any academic cuts mean a degradation of the GW educational experience. It is essential that the University engage in a public relations effort to clearly explain this issue to stakeholders should academic cuts go through.
The Faculty Senate has called upon the administration to maintain the current academic affairs budget because cuts across academic departments affect the ability to hire new faculty. In their view, budget constraints will force departments not to hire new professors – the backbone of any university’s academic mission. Full-time faculty could improve the quality and stability of GW’s curriculum and educational integrity. Budget cuts, if they force a freeze on hiring, will hamper this effort.
In addition, the number of classes available to students might suffer. This is already evident in the Music Department, which has been forced to scale back beginner music instruction. To a student who will be affected, these ramifications will no doubt cause ill feelings, but they will also have long-term effects.
Applicants to the University may be dazzled by Colonial Inauguration or impressed by brand-new dorms when they decide to attend, but ultimately their time here will be marked by their academic experience. The impression that the administration may slash academic budgets has far reaching ramifications.
GW has transformed from a small commuter school to a national university over the past few decades. As graduates begin to earn salaries that allow for significant giving to their alma mater, it is important that they attribute their success to their GW experience. If students are under the perception that their education is taking a back seat to construction and services, they might be less likely to donate to the school in the future.
Budget shortfalls are not new to GW; there was one last year as well, and the year before that. In fall 2004, when administrators announced departmental cuts, this page advocated that the University level with students. The same action should be taken in this case.
The extent and true effect of these cuts is unknown, but they would be received poorly without a solid justification or more transparency in the budget process. By connecting with students on this issue GW can avoid a detrimental effect on perceptions of its academic priorities.
Recently, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz hosted a number of meetings with students to discuss the Campus Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for GW’s development over the next 20 years. Many underclassmen attended these meetings and this allowed students to connect with an administration that may seem distant at times. Similar tactics should be used in addressing the proposed budgetary cuts.
By the same token, it is incumbent that students understand budget realities. Students temper their reaction when GW proposes cuts to non-essential services, such as newspapers in the residence halls or the 4-RIDE service, to preserve academics.
Academic cuts can possibly go through in the next fiscal year, but damage to GW’s reputation can be avoided. Through open dialog administrators can at least have their position heard. The only other option is promulgating negative perceptions about University intentions with regards to academic quality.