Consider the Academic Core
By Barbara Lyman
Planning mandated budget cuts, my counterpart and I were attuned to making reductions in ways that protected the university's academic programs. What we'd learned at the CAO-CFO workshop helped to strengthen this resolve—protecting the academic core—as a shared value. When we later saw the 4.25 percent proposed cuts at institutions across our state system, it was clear that our approach put us among universities that had indeed protected academic programs and related priorities.
The workshop, therefore, helped us move from an across-the-board process for the first round of reductions to a selective approach, in which we avoided treating all programs and services as equal priorities. For example, we did not view overtime pay for directing traffic at performing arts events as the equivalent of funds for independent study courses students needed to complete graduation requirements in a timely fashion.
As we face much more severe budget reductions, we will continue to benefit from our shared learning, by continuing the channels of communication that facilitate a more strategic look at our operating budget. We've established a dialogue that will help the institution avoid cutting into areas that could negatively affect the time it takes for students to attain their degrees. For example, if we were to drastically trim summer course offerings rather than judiciously streamline them, the time-to-degree component suffers.
Further, we will not be inclined to place a total ban on travel. Through our improved dialogue, we realize the disproportionate effect this can have on our own education and performance (gained through travel to and participation in an out-of-state conference) as well as on the scholarly-research agendas and accomplishments of pretenure faculty.
In fact, our workshop experience has encouraged us in the shared view that even during apparent budget exigencies, the possibility still exists—if the values, will, and academic plans are in place and aligned—to redirect resources to special initiatives. In other words, we are more likely to plan and invest based on better times ahead and to do it in ways that get us there sooner.
At the same time, questions that the CFO may have for the CAO mean that decision making within and across divisions can be strengthened. In protecting the academic core, it is nevertheless necessary to demonstrate with converging and corroborative quantitative as well as qualitative data that we on the academic side of the house are exercising with due diligence all appropriate economies and efficiencies while maintaining our core academic values. The plea to “just trust us” won't do when deep cuts must be made and associated hard choices must be justified.
While we were attending the conference, preparations for regional accreditation review were in high gear, with the site visit just a few months ahead. Accreditation and program reviews offer us additional long-term opportunities to collaborate in an effort to integrate planning, budget, and assessment. These review activities promote amplified efforts toward continuous improvement not only in student learning outcomes but also around expectations for all educational, administrative, and student support programs and services at the institution. The CAO and CFO have a mutual stake in ensuring quality in these areas.
BARBARA LYMAN is provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg.