Arts and sciences faculty voice budget concerns amid revenue losses

by Ioana Andrada Pantelimon | 6/1/20 2:00am

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Throughout the spring term, professors weathered unexpected changes to their courses, technological challenges, research setbacks and other obstacles to maintaining the quality of their work amid remote instruction. As the second remote term approaches, faculty have advocated for the College to prioritize the arts and sciences budget.

While the College has not yet decided when on-campus instruction will resume, Provost Joseph Helble said that, looking ahead, faculty will have to decide — with the “support and guidance” of department chairs and associate deans — what courses get offered remotely versus in-person and in what terms they will be offered.

“We do expect that for every course that's offered on campus, students have to have the ability to at least follow the work remotely, because it is quite probable that at least some students will need to quarantine because they've been exposed to the virus,” Helble said.

As the College faces budget constraints due to revenue losses posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, arts and sciences faculty have pushed the administration for measures to avoid layoffs, preserve the work of non-tenure track faculty and increase funding for the arts and sciences. Faculty hope that such measures will support them while the future of their work remains uncertain.

Faculty face budgetary woes

Despite charging full tuition this term, the College’s revenue has been impacted by hits to its endowment, a decrease in alumni donations and reduced revenue from students, given that most students are no longer paying room and board, according to Casana and art history professor Mary Coffey, who are both members of the Committee on Priorities. The committee communicates faculty opinions on the budget and resource allocation to the administration.

“As every institution [is], we are facing significant budget losses that we will have to mitigate to some degree, or we will end up in a deficit crisis,” Coffey said. “The goal is to avoid layoffs and furloughs.”

As the College braces for a projected $83 million revenue loss in the next fiscal year, some professors have expressed concern over the impacts that budget cuts could have on the arts and sciences’ operations. In response to budgetary constraints, the College has imposed a freeze on hiring and wage increases, meaning that no one aside from faculty currently up for promotion will receive a raise for the time being.

“Normally in a given year, everyone gets some kind of merit increase,” Coffey said. “That's kind of how our salaries incrementally keep pace with inflation.”

While budgetary decisions are ultimately up to the administration, Coffey said that faculty committee members have been “very vigilant and very forceful in [their] expectation that [they] are not just consulted, but that [they] get to weigh in on how budgetary priorities are set.”

According to Coffey, the administration is exploring a number of other potential “levers” to mitigate the budget crisis and cuts to the number of courses that the College offers.

Coffey said that non-tenure track faculty would bear the brunt of these course cuts, as they would have “less opportunities to teach courses,” while tenured faculty members’ workloads would increase “significantly.”

“This could have potential ripple effects for research productivity,” Coffey added.

Philosophy department chair and incoming associate dean for arts and humanities Samuel Levey noted that this term, faculty benefited from the flexibility to defer their teaching to later terms if they were unable or unwilling to teach remotely.

“Normally, non-tenure track professors cannot postpone the class [that they are scheduled to teach]. They either teach it or they don't, and if [they] don’t teach it, [they] don’t get paid,” Levey said. “But this year, for the spring term, non-tenure track faculty were given the option to postpone.”

Helble noted that resorting to cutting courses would be up to deans and associate deans once the administration sets budgetary targets. He added that the central administration never mandates how many courses faculty members or departments can offer. 

Committee seeks arts and sciences budget increase

While acknowledging the economic hardships imposed by COVID-19, Casana said that the arts and sciences faculty on the committee actually asked the College for a raise in their budget.

Arts and sciences faculty believe there are “more sensible” places to make cuts than the arts and sciences budget, which Casana called the “primary heartbeat of the institution.”

“Our opening position to the administration is that arts and sciences should not have its budget cut at all,” Casana said. “Our budget should be increased by about five percent to accommodate all the new challenges.”

However, Helble said that while the exact arts and sciences budget numbers will not be available until early June, the budgetary losses Dartmouth is facing make such a raise impossible for any section of the budget.

Casana said that he believes a lot of money could be saved by making cuts within the administration.

“One thing that is true at Dartmouth and universities across the United States is that if you look at the percentage of funds spent on non-teaching and research functions that are just administrative, like lawyers or accountants, [that is] a huge amount of money,” Casana said, adding that that piece of the budget is “probably the biggest pile to be cut.”

Coffey said that the committee is “absolutely vigilant and dogged in [their] defense of the arts and sciences, of the liberal arts College.” She added that the committee “want[s] to ensure that those decisions that are made as a consequence of the COVID crisis are limited in their scope and duration,” so that any challenging compromises that might need to be made due to COVID-19 are temporary.

“We are very united in that we will not allow the COVID crisis to become the occasion for enacting other kinds of budgetary changes that could have long-term consequences for the healthy functioning of arts and sciences.”

Chair of the Committee on Priorities and government professor Russell Muirhead said that the administration does not yet know what the pandemic will mean for markets, endowments, students and their families.

“The precise effect on the fiscal year that begins July 1 is not something anyone yet knows,” he wrote.