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Even before yesterday’s Meet & Discuss meeting, word had trickled out that PASSHE University’s were being asked by the OOC (Office of the Chancellor) to prepare for budget scenarios that could include cuts in state appropriations as deep as 15% for the fiscal year 2011-2012.  Yesterday’s meeting confirmed this.  In fact, the budget cuts would be even worse.  The OOC is asking Universities to prepare as if there will be a loss of federal stimulus money (38.2 million), which is due to run out after this year.

The OOC is asking the Universities to submit budgets by September with different scenarios that all presume loss of revenue, that is,  a 5% cut in state funding, a 10% cut in state funding, and a 15% cut in state funding (all first assuming the loss of the stimulus money).  These models, from what we understand, also ask the Universities to assume no increase in tuition. 

The logic behind these dire predictions is that the Commonwealth will be billions in the red, and PASSHE, which had been protected from cuts (the stimulus money came with a “maintenance of effort” provision) would now be subject to cuts disproportionate to other agencies.

Setting aside, for now, the political liklihood of such cuts (yes, a big thing to put aside), imagine, if you can stomach it, what our Universities would look like with the loss of these state dollars.  Ugly, indeed.

How long do the Universities have to submit these depleted budgets?  “Happy start to the semester, Provost.  Please strip 5%  from your already depleted academic budget.” 

Assuming the Universities could prepare such budgets seriously (and how could they given the time frame?), perhaps the most serious question is why must the OOC continue to be a collaborator in this sick political game?  While it is true that PASSHE must soon submit a budget to the Governor’s office, why would it even contemplate sending forth a proposed budget that even suggests that the Universities can function without this money? 

One possible answer might be that the OOC plans to demonstrate to government officials just how detrimental these cuts can be.  This might work, if our government officials had previously indicated any concern for the PASSHE budget in the past.  There is little evidence that they have.  Far more likely, it will send the message that PASSHE can, in fact, live with these cuts.

We can only hope that the OOC and our University administrations will rethink this exerecise.  Now is the time that we need to make the case that higher education is not a contributor to the Commonwealth’s ill economy; it is part of the cure. 

Penn State President Graham Spanier has said in defense of his University’s decision to raise tuition (yet, again) that “We . . . know that our mission and success remain absolutely critical to the future of Pennsylvania. Our vitality is part of the solution to the economic downturn. We simply cannot allow the quality and breadth of our enterprise to be diminished.”

We hope that PASSHE officials will join us (APSCUF) as we take a smilar message to our government officials.