ECU, like campuses across the UNC system and the nation, is evaluating hard questions about vertical program cuts, academic consolidations, and other money-saving options that would not normally be considered.
The reason is simple. ECU, along with its fellow UNC campuses, faces the worst budget climate in recent history. ECU has lost $102 million in state funding over the last four years. Estimates place our state base budget cut for the next fiscal year between $30 million and $50 million. Many analysts and longtime observers see this as the beginning of a new era of permanent austerity for public universities.
Because of this environment, in February I asked the Educational Policies and Planning Committee (EPPC) of the Faculty Senate to make recommendations on two separate approaches to adapting to tough budget cuts. First, the committee was asked to identify criteria and guidelines for prioritizing programs so that ECU had a way to think about how we would make academic program cuts if forced to.
Second, the committee was asked to suggest ways to reduce administrative expenditures by consolidating academic units – with the clear goal of protecting faculty positions.
The EPPC reported to the Faculty Senate on Tuesday, April 19. The committee's preliminary recommendations caused considerable angst among those programs suggested for potential consolidation. This is understandable.
It is important to note that this report represents only the beginning of the campus evaluation process. We want to get this right. The steps that will follow are key aspects of that work. There will be many opportunities for campus input and feedback. There will also be rigorous scrutiny and review.
The next step is for a new Program Prioritization Committee, chaired by Ron Mitchelson, to take the work of the EPPC and review its applicability for ECU. How much money would be saved by consolidation? Would consolidation be worth those savings? Are consolidation and vertical program cuts better or worse than large percentage reductions to each college? The Mitchelson committee will include faculty, the academic vice chancellors, two deans, and a representative of the Staff Senate, since any consolidations are likely to negatively affect SPA employees and non-teaching EPA positions. I expect this committee to work for several weeks to several months unless we are forced to make budget decisions at an earlier time. I do not anticipate that scenario.
Once the committee has finished, all options will be assessed further by the chancellor's Executive Council, the Faculty Senate officers, and the ECU Board of Trustees. This is not work we want to do, but it is work we have to do. That's why the ECU Board of Trustees has requested a plan for vertical program elimination and for increased efficiency. This request is consistent with what many public universities in the nation have had to do.
ECU is involving many facets of the campus in its response to the unfolding budget realities. I encourage you to provide input and feedback to the Mitchelson committee, the Faculty Senate, or the Chancellor's Executive Council.