UM Administrators Prepare for Budget Cuts

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – University of Montana administrators have told their department heads to prepare plans to cut spending 2 percent to 8 percent in anticipation of a possible $16 million budget shortfall due to a drop in enrollment last year.

Two-thirds of the university’s $157 million general fund comes from tuition and fees, while the rest comes from state appropriations. The cuts that department heads are being asked to come up with are based on last year’s 6 percent drop in enrollment.

The university is looking for ways to cut costs with minimal impacts on students and faculty, the Missoulian reported in a story published Monday.

“The fact is, there will be controversy about any kind of budget adjustment, no matter what you do,” UM President Royce Engstrom said last week in an interview at his Main Hall office. “In the end, some decisions have to be made.”

The figures represent a worst-case scenario moving into next year any possible cuts that come with it will be adjusted as projections change over the next month, Engstrom said.

With the current projections, many adjunct faculty members have been told their contracts may not be renewed next year. Some courses won’t be offered in areas where student demand isn’t as high.

Kevin McRae, a deputy commissioner with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, said the Legislature provided the Montana University System a $28 million increase over the next two years.

That money is intended to cover the inflationary costs of education, regardless of student enrollment, and there is flexibility in how the money is dispersed.

“The money still will primarily be allocated on an enrollment basis, but there’s some discretion there,” McRae said. “Enrollment goes up and down everywhere — it always has. In the big picture and over the long term, there’s no doubt in our mind that UM will be fine.”

Christopher Comer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said most of the college’s curriculum will be offered in the fall, but not all of it, depending on the outcome of the budget cuts.

“The chairs have been very good at finding savings and doing it creatively. There are a lot of unknowns still, and that’s the frustrating part,” Comer said.

Different petitions signed by different faculty members have presented possible solutions. In one letter last week, a list of 44 faculty members asked administrators to forgo salary increases and to return 5 percent of their earnings to the general fund.

They are also asking Engstrom to eliminate “unnecessary” administrative positions, to freeze vacant administrative positions and to eliminate centers and institutes that aren’t self-supporting.

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