Arthur Asuncion


Articles -- Budget Cuts Are Affecting Academic Programs (Dec 2003)

Even as enrollment growth and outreach programs grapple with substantial funding reductions this year, academic programs at UCI are also starting to feel the impact of the state budget cuts. An October sampling of several schools on campus reveals that the University's lack of funding is prompting both increases in undergraduate class sizes and reductions in support infrastructure.

According to Executive Vice Chancellor Michael Gottfredson, UCI's base budget has been reduced by seven percent over the past two years, affecting both support services and instruction. Cuts to each academic unit have been uniform in proportion to each unit's growth.

“We've taken larger cuts in support units than we have in academic units,” said Gottfredson. “So by purposeful policy, we try to protect as much as possible academic instruction.”

While the schools are still able to accommodate students' course needs, some core classes are becoming more impacted and enrichment classes are becoming less common, due to high enrollment and less funding.

“We have had some increases in class size, but we've tried to have an equal level of support per section,” said Dean of Social Sciences Barbara Dosher, who noted that the school is working hard to maintain laddered courses and small class offerings.

Dean of Physical Sciences Ron Stern agrees that classes are up to capacity, though he points out that new sections can be added if needed. “All of our class sizes are at their max, there's no doubt about that, but they're not artificially large,” said Stern.

Other academic units have not yet substantially felt the effects of the budget cuts. According to Associate Dean Michael Leon, the School of Biological Sciences is not currently facing problems of class overcapacity. Instead, the school has been able to add more majors, increase discussion sections, and implement essay tests instead of multiple choice tests.

Some students have not noticed any effects of the budget cuts to academic instruction either.

“This quarter, class sizes have been the same as they have always been,” said Joseph Boufadel, a 2nd year Criminology major. “They're still large as usual.”

The budget cuts' lack of discernable effects may be partly credited to each school administration's commitment to shield the quality of the undergraduate programs as much as possible.

“The undergraduate education is the top priority,” said Dosher. “We're trying to mitigate the impact of the budget cuts.”

Although Stern wonders if making the effects of the budget cuts evident could persuade the state of California to give more funds the University, Stern sees his role of Dean as one who has the responsibility to ease the pain of the cuts.

“Our goal here is to make our problems as invisible, especially to undergraduate students, as much as possible,” said Stern.

Although class sizes have been affected, a bigger problem may actually be with the classrooms and the maintenance of facilities. Class seating, overhead projectors, and instructional technology are some areas that need upgrading.

“Probably the single effect [of the cuts] on the instructional level has been what we call building renewal: classroom maintenance and upgrades,” said Gottfredson, citing various examples that need renewal. “People might not notice those right away, but over a sustained period of time they would probably notice.”

In the midst of budget cuts and the need for building maintenance, UCI has managed to grow physically as a campus with the additions of several new structures like the newly opened Croul Hall and the ICS 3 building that will soon be constructed. Although some may wonder at the extensive growth during budget reductions, the funds for building projects are specially earmarked and are not fungible with other funds, according to Gottfredson.

Another area that has been affected by the lack of funding is the support infrastructure that each academic unit's staff provides to faculty and researchers. In general, although the number of faculty has grown substantially over the past few years, the amount of staff that supports the faculty has remained constant. On the campus level, Gottfredson reports that UCI has kept itself from hiring an additional 150 staff members in order to save money.

Other facets of this infrastructure, like mail delivery and shipping and receiving services, are also being affected by the budget cuts.

“It's that infrastructure that's starting to get burdened,” said Stern. “And eventually, it's just like building a big tower. If the foundation isn't very strong, it could collapse.”

Aside from the state-funded research activities that have received cuts, research funding from federal and private sources has remained very strong among the different academic units. This additional research makes the infrastructure that supports the research more vital.

Although the UC Regents normally present a budget in November, they may have to wait until January before making any definitive statements, says Stern. In January, Governor-Elect Schwarzeneggar will present a new state budget. Only then will the University know the full extent of the upcoming year's budget reductions.

In preparation for potential reductions, both the campus and the various school administrations are identifying areas that can be made more efficient. UCI is also seeking non-state sources of funding, like federal funding and philanthropy, to help mitigate the budget cuts.

“If the additional cuts are severe, the University would either have to raise tuition or cut quality,” said Leon, noting that in past budget crises, faculty and staff had been encouraged to retire and administrative jobs had been cut.

Although Gottfredson thinks that the upcoming budget year will be very difficult, he remains optimistic about the future of the University of California.

“Believe, as I believe, that this is a relatively short term problem,” says Gottfredson. “[It's] longer than anyone would have liked, but the economy of California will pick back up.”