Kent State prepares for effects as state budget is deliberated

Allison Smith

Temporary budget in place until July 14

The state budget, proposed for release on July 1, was extended until July 14. President Lester Lefton said Kent State is preparing for the impact it could have on the university.

Lefton said the university gets about $100 million a year from the state that comes in the form of State Share of Instruction, or SSI.

SSI is part of the state budget reserved specifically for public institutions.

“Imagine that they were to give a 10 or 20 percent cut to SSI so that we lost $10 or $20 million,” Lefton said. “This isn’t a matter of having to trim around the edges or use fewer pencils. There would be very serious implications.”

Lefton said he isn’t sure what the university will do if SSI is cut significantly. He said some programs and scholarships could be cut and the university might have to reduce faculty and staff, but no one is sure what will happen.

Kent State has made cuts already, but Lefton said it isn’t noticeable.

“You wouldn’t notice it,” Lefton said. “We have made cutbacks in scholarships. We didn’t give scholarships that we had planned to give. We didn’t hire people that we planned to hire.”

Senior Associate Provost Timothy Chandler said students will mostly notice reduced services that the university currently offers. He said departments may have to cut back on the number of elective classes they offer, but things aren’t “set in stone.”

“I think that it may be necessary to increase class size a little bit,” Chandler said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt classes with very small enrollments we probably won’t be able to run. It’s just not sensible.”

Chandler said these are difficult issues for the university to deal with, but they are doing all they can to balance things out.

“The last thing we need to do is to make it any more difficult for students to come, but we also want to offer them high quality education and that’s a trade off,” Chandler said.

Lefton said the university operates at the edge of its budget. He said if the university is given $100, it spends $100.

“Within its budget, the university operates right on the edge,” Lefton said. “We spend every dime that we have in support of our various programs and initiatives. Therefore, if you cut the budget, something’s got to give.”

Chandler thinks services such as the library, writing center and math tutoring will have slightly reduced hours.

“What we’ll try to do is to continue the services; they may have to be slightly shorter hours in order to live within our budget,” Chandler said. “Our aim would be not to cut anything out if it was absolutely essential, but to try to find ways of focusing and ensuring we did continue them.”

Chandler said the university will try to avoid layoffs.

“A university is about its people, and without those people, it’s very hard to offer a high-quality service, so layoffs would be the very last thing we’d be looking at,” said Chandler.

Lefton said the university has received a $2.4 million budget cut from the state so far. He said officials cut their own internal budget by $5.5 million because they didn’t increase tuition.

“Our failure to get tuition increases is great for the students, but it’s affecting you whether you know it or not,” Lefton said. “This year, we have trimmed out at least $9 million out of the budget.”

The deans and the vice presidents are going through planning exercises so they’re prepared if Kent State is issued another budget cut.

“Nothing’s decided because we don’t know what, if any, how much of a budget cut we’ll get. We do not know if any budget cut will be forthcoming and what it will be,” Lefton said. “There’s a big difference between $1 million or $2 million – while it’s still a lot of money – and $20 million.”

Lefton said the state is faced with a very difficult situation. The state is short about $3 billion, he said. There are multiple needs, and everyone is making the pitch of “don’t cut me.”

“From my point of view, having an educated work force is crucial for the future growth of the state of Ohio,” Lefton said. “If we don’t have an educated work force, if we don’t have entrepreneurs, if we don’t have accountants, if we don’t have doctors, lawyers, radiological technicians, journalists and everyone else, then we might as well close the state down. It’s like cutting your own throat to cut from universities.”

Chandler said he thinks the state believes supporting higher education will be the best way to help boost the economy in the long run.

“They don’t want to harm higher education,” Chandler said. “On the other hand, where else can they find money when they’ve already taken it from prisons, from health care, from disability services, from all of those things? They’ve cut those programs. The only thing they haven’t cut is education.”

Lefton said these are very difficult times and the university is prepared to do its share. He said one of the big tasks is to keep the best faculty and staff who are considered core essentials.

“I’d rather that we not hire some people, not expand in some areas than to let anyone go,” Lefton said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to do any of this. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Contact principal reporter Allison Smith at [email protected].