Student protest fun facts

OU Fun Facts protest organizer Alex Armstrong stands on the Soldiers and Sailors monument on OU’s College Green to put up protest signs before a protest of OU administration's response to the university's budget troubles in late November 2019. File photo by Conor Morris.

Ohio University on Wednesday released a large trove of documents outlining the latest steps the university’s academic and administrative units have taken toward planning for the next budget cycle. Essentially, this is a large-scale exercise in how those units can reduce costs, increase efficiency and gain more revenue.

Note: We've uploaded a copy of the budget planning documents here, as well.

Still, the university’s vice president for communications and marketing, Robin Oliver, was very careful in an interview Wednesday to explain that the documents should not be construed as a final plan on how the university can cut its budget in a time of declining enrollment and other financial challenges.

“These should not be seen in any way, shape or form as action plans that we are going to move forward with,” Oliver said. “These are idea documents… to generate some ideas from our leadership about the best way to move forward with both the short-term rebalancing of the budget and the longer-term academic planning.”

Separate from this current planning exercise, the OU administration last spring set a target of roughly $19.3 million in budget reductions that it asked the university’s various Athens campus academic colleges to make over the next four years. The largest portion of that – about $8 million – is coming from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Oliver confirmed Wednesday that the colleges already have proceeded with “some of that planning” to change their budgets per the aforementioned budget target, but did not detail specifics about what they’ve done. The goal can be achieved through a variety of methods, she added, hopefully through a combination of “program growth and expense reductions” (academic colleges also have been instructed to consider how to increase their revenue as a way to meet that target).

“Those are moving targets as enrollments change, as our various revenue streams change, as expenses change,” Oliver said.

The documents released Wednesday by the university represent an in-depth, data-heavy examination by leaders of the academic colleges and administrative departments at OU on their programs, expenses and revenues. As such, there wasn’t a single, easily digestible picture of where the university may go with potential budget cuts.

The College of Arts and Sciences’ submission from Dean Florenz Plassman, for example, presents an analysis of faculty workload and class sizes per each major, an explanation of how faculty and staff retirements could affect the college, and an exploration of how the college might reduce its budget and how that could affect programming.

One section does include modeling for how the college could provide curriculum while significantly increasing the number of students enrolled per course by 2021/2022 (class size). With that model, the college could get by with roughly half of its instructional faculty (47, compared to the 95 it otherwise would have in 2021/2022).

While that might seem like a cause for alarm for those faculty, Plassman said in a statement Wednesday that this is merely a planning exercise.

“…The document emphasizes repeatedly that the underlying data of these calculations and simulations are imperfect, and that all personnel decisions need to be based on careful analyses of the actual circumstances in the departments,” Plassman said. “The text that accompanies Table 22 makes it clear that the calculations in the table are incomplete, for example, because they do not consider new programs and the requirements of the GenEd reform. The table therefore does *not* imply that the College considers reducing the number of instructional faculty by half.”

IN OTHER NEWS arising from the documents released Wednesday, OU’s Athletics Department was one of the various administrative departments that provided a plan on how it could reduce its budget by 5 percent and 10 percent.

It showed that with direct total expenses of $23,395,395 in fiscal year 2019, those cost reduction targets would be $1.169 million (5 percent) and $2.34 million (10 percent). That’s in addition to about $677,000 in cuts over the last three years.

Much of those cuts under discussion would come from already-planned reductions in debt and expenses. However, the remaining cuts would need to come from “reductions in administrative services,” reductions in marketing and promotions, and “imposing stricter travel restrictions and per-diem limits” while delaying replacement of athletic equipment.

“Identifying and eliminating these operating expenses from Athletics presents some harsh challenges,” the memo from the Athletics Department reads. In reality, any analysis of athletics operations when compared to peer institutions in the MAC shows that athletics at Ohio operate in a fiscally prudent and efficient manner. There simply is very little discretionary spending remaining in the context of supporting a broad-based NCAA Division I athletic program of 16 sports.”

The NEWS will present a further look at all of these budget documents in our next edition (Dec. 12).

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Correction: The NEWS mistakenly reported in its Nov. 21 edition that all university planning units – academic and administrative – were to present a budget planning exercise to university administration by Nov. 15 to model how they could make 5 percent and 10 percent cuts. In reality, only the university administrative departments were given that directive regarding the 5 and 10 percent cuts; academic units were not given a specific number.

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