Academic Affairs Faces Budget Deficit

By Jordan Van Beek

An email was sent out to Western faculty on Nov. 12 regarding the current budget situation, saying the financial health of the school is very good. However, the email brought up concerns about Western’s Academic Affairs budget, citing it needs more funding.

The email was signed off by the Faculty Senate President Jeff Young, United Faculty of Western Washington President Rich Brown, United Faculty of Washington State President Bill Lyne, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the UFWW Executive Committee.

“Associate Vice President Brian Burton presented an analysis of the academic affairs budget that showed an ongoing $3.25 million deficit,” the email states. “This informative, detailed, and accurate presentation showed us what most faculty already know: the academic mission of the university is underfunded and has been for as long as any of us can remember.”

Paul Cocke, director of university communications and marketing, said the financial health of the university is solid. 

“Expenditures in Western’s Division of Academic Affairs have exceeded allocated budgets annually since 2014-15,” Cocke said. “While academic affairs in the past has addressed this structural gap through use of fund balances and one-time revenues, this is an unsustainable situation, and it became apparent that the structural budget gap would need to be addressed jointly by the university and the division.”

In the 2018 fiscal year, revenue exceeded expenses by $10.7 million, making it one of the lowest margins in the last eight years, according to the email. With this, there is still a deficit in the academic affairs budget. 

Graphic showing allocation vs spending. Created by Colton Rasanen

The Division of Academic Affairs administers the seven academic colleges, academic support services and undergraduate and graduate programs, Cocke said.

“[Administration is] wanting to cut some classes and cut some tenure line faculty positions in order to address that deficit [in academic affairs],” Lyne said.

The email laid out three recommendations for the future of Western’s budget. The recommendations were that Western should create a plan to immediately direct ample funding to the academic affairs budget, every academic unit on campus should make an aspirational plan for full staffing, and that Western should recommit to their mission as a public state university.

Significant amounts of money go unspent every year, Lyne said.

“There are constraints, but the idea that the ongoing academic affairs deficit could not be covered with base funds from overall university resources is not supported by the facts,” the email said.

Western President Sabah Randhawa warned faculty that “aspects of the ‘Western Way’” have been obstructive to the financial health of the university, according to the email. Randhawa offers solutions of more out-of-state students and more non-degree certificate programs.

“We feel it is also important to point out that Randhawa’s solutions are all self-sustaining programs. Simply put, the president’s proposal is to move Western further and further toward private education,” the email said. “It is thus not so much ‘the Western Way’ that President Randhawa sees as our problem as it is our fundamental mission as a public university.”

“Provost Brent Carbajal has initiated work with the Council of Deans to identify additional revenue sources and to better align the shared responsibilities for the academic affairs budget going forward,” Cocke said. “These coordinated and prudent measures are designed to address the budget gaps over the next three years.”

The email said that they encourage the administration to immediately commit to the full, ample funding of Western’s academic mission.

“We strongly encourage our faculty colleagues to engage and change the conversation,” the email said. “False scarcity cannot continue to be our guiding principle.”

Last year, the university conducted an institutional resource modeling initiative, which included a representative committee of staff, faculty and students to develop a model to identify funding gaps that needed to be addressed to achieve the university’s strategic plan, according to Cocke.

“The budget gap was included in the initiative, the results of last year’s modeling project were broadly discussed last spring, and the gaps were addressed during the university budget process,” Cocke said.

The primary funding for the university’s academic mission comes from state support and student tuition, Lyne and Young said.

“Public support for higher education in Washington is very high, and state investment in higher education has been growing dramatically,” the email said.

Lyne said the purpose of the email was to start a conversation about the funding situation.

“One of the points of sending this letter around was to try to start this conversation,” Lyne said. “To try to get a conversation going where we’re able to persuade the administration that more funding needs to go to the academic mission of the university.”

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