Budget reductions force course cuts

by Jessica Spradling | 11/8/02 6:00am

Several departments -- particularly those in the humanities -- are now expected to reduce course offerings to lower costs, despite previous statements by College President James Wright and Provost Barry Scherr that core academic areas would be protected as Dartmouth cuts its budget.

Some faculty feel they are bearing the brunt of the College's multi-miillon dollar budget reductions. Each department's budget for non-salary items will be cut by 5 percent for the fiscal year 2003 and an additional 5 percent in the next year.

Faculty are also particularly upset over the effects of the $1 million cut from the library budget that may result in reducing the size of the permanent collection, fewer electronic sources, the closing of Sanborn Library and the incorporation of Sherman Art Library into the Baker/Berry complex.

Direct effects

Administrators and faculty said the reductions in academic departments' non-compensation budget, library cuts and staff layoffs will have different ramifications for different academic departments.

The most direct effects will result from reductions to the non-compensation budget, which cover all non-salary-funding departments receive from the College. According to Dean of the Faculty Michael Gazzaniga, non-compensation budgets pay for everything from, "pizza parties to paper -- it's got a zillion uses."

Scherr said that, for most of the humanities, the budget cuts for the fiscal years 2003 and 2004 mean cutting back their course offerings by one to two courses. Scherr indicated that departments will try, where possible, to eliminate courses that are similar to other courses that they offer.

"The operating budget is under a lot of stress," Scherr said.

Despite the cuts, not all of the humanities' resources are being depleted. "There are a number of endowments to help people in humanities -- those are still there," Gazzaniga said.

"There's a budget reality, so a cut had to be made," Gazzaniga said. He added that despite the budget crunch, "the academic mission has been greatly respected."

The natural and physical sciences rely more on outside grants for their research and are not very reliant on their non-compensation budgets, so their activities will not be as directly affected as the humanities or social sciences.

According to Mark McPeek, chair of the biology department, cutting their budget cut by about $135,000 this year will not substantially alter biology professors' ability to teach.

He added that many alumni had been very generous to the biology department over the years, and that they had a nice "nest egg to draw on to buffer the shock."

According to Howard Hughes, chair of the psychology department, the social sciences rely more on a combination of outside funding and non-compensation budget. "It's hard to tell how bad this will be," said Hughes, adding, "So far, this is not devastating."

Misagh Parsa, acting chair of the department of sociology, said "we will survive fine."

Outside academic departments

Other permanent budget cuts do not so directly affect specific departments. Nonetheless, downsizing the College library system and halting construction on new buildings will both have an effect on the faculty's ability to teach and research.

Even as the Board of Trustees celebrates the dedication of Berry Library this weekend, the system the facility is now officially joining is facing deep cuts.

According to several professors, the $1 million downsizing of the 11 libraries is among the most upsetting and controversial long-term effects of the budget cuts.

"The library is a very sensitive issue. It's our pride and joy that almost anything we need is available," religion department chair Ronald Green.

Baker/Berry and other libraries will reduce the size of their permanent collections to save on maintenance costs Scherr indicated. But some of the most controversial decisions have regarded many of the campus' smaller, more specialized libraries, Dana Biomedical, Kresge Physical Sciences and Sherman Art Libraries are all going to endure significant cutbacks and Sanborn Library faces possible closure.

Art history professor Joy Kenseth said that she understands that each department needs to contribute to solve the college's financial difficulties, but she said that the proposed cuts to Sherman Library would be devastating to the art history department.

Plans currently under consideration include eliminating the four staff members, moving the reserve book section to the basement of Baker and making the art bibliographer a part time responsibility for someone working in Baker/Berry.

"Our great, great concern is with the changes that have been recommended for Sherman Art Library because our teaching mission, and our research in our department is so intimately connected with the library," Kenseth said, adding that Sherman is "part of our identity, and it's a great experience for students."

Kenseth also feared that research for faculty and students would suffer. Sherman "is a very, very specialized library and it's not the kind of place that it is easy for faculty and especially students to get around without assistance," Kenseth said.

Scherr himself was also concerned about the library, noting that some great research is done by simply browsing the shelves of the hard-copy collections. He indicated, though, that the biggest effect on the libraries would be a slowdown in the purchase of new books.

"Everybody is concerned about the library," Gazzaniga said, continuing to argue that College Librarian Richard Lucier "has made some judicious decisions on dealing with reality. I think he's doing a damn good job."

But Green said the potential library reduction "takes a kind of hidden toll on faculty research and faculty vitality."

Some faculty members also worried that reductions in the capabilities of the campus library system would take an emotional toll on the faculty and decrease the image of the College as a research-oriented institution.

For the biology department, the suspension of building projects will have the most direct effect because it means a planned new life sciences building will be delayed, according to McPeek, the department chair.

"We were thinking we would be looking at architects right now. Now it's 'are we going to have enough money for this?'" he said.

Scherr, however, said that the planned new construction was not permanently on hold. He was optimistic that Dartmouth's capital campaign in the coming years would allow the College to fulfill all of its proposed buildings including new dorms and the expansion of the life sciences building.

McPeek noted that the attention drawn to the budget cuts might make attracting top-rated faculty to Dartmouth more difficult, saying the budget cuts were "much more of a perception problem than a real problem."


Another long-term budget cut that is of significant concern to faculty is the proposition that 30 staff positions may be permanently eliminated. According to chair of the department of physics and astronomy Mary Hudson, there would be no reductions in college faculty and the College will continue hiring as normal.

However, many faculty members are still worried that their research could be impacted by cut backs in library staff or Facilities, Operations and Management staff.

"I believe that there are probably a lot of unnecessary jobs at this school, but definitely not in FO&M, any layoffs should come from the administration," Hughes said.

"If research computing was cut back, that could seriously impact our research," said Victor Ambros, a professor of genetics.

Some faculty members had moral objections to 30 staff members losing their jobs.

"It's difficult to justify to someone who's going to losing their job, why they are losing it, when we are starting a billion dollar fundraising campaign," Ambros said, referring to Dartmouth's capital campaign that is now in its initial phases.

Scherr and Gazzaniga were both vague about possible upcoming fund raising. Gazzaniga said that he could not comment on the developments in the new financial campaign, but did say that, "it's working," and he added, "Good things are going to happen in the next four years."

Scherr, though unspecific, also indicated he was optimistic that the College would emerge from the budget crunch during the upcoming five-year capital campaign.

McPeek added that Dartmouth is such a close community that no matter who lost their job or where on campus they worked, that they would have friends in the biology department that would be sad to see them go, and that would effect general faculty morale.

Faculty reaction to how the administration had been handling the budget cuts was mixed. Several felt that they had little say in what was going on, and that they had not been given enough notice.

Green said in regards to the budget cuts that the faculty had "no say -- cuts came suddenly and the dean's office just told us."

"I don't think the administration understands that the faculty are eager to brainstorm to help solve these problems," Ambros said. "It seems as if the budget cuts are planned where something that is really a very small savings for the College could have a disproportionate negative effect."

In addition to academic departments and libraries, Scherr said faculty would be affected to a lesser extent by cutbacks that the Hood Museum of Art, the Hopkins Center for Performing Arts and Computing Services would be undergoing.