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Chancellor talks tuition rate, budget cuts at faculty town hall

M. E. Sadler Hall (Heesoo Yang/Staff Photographer)

Chancellor Victor Boschini hosted a virtual town hall for faculty Monday and stressed the need for fiscal conservatism as the university deals with the financial ramifications of COVID-19.

The town hall had over 600 attendees and was moderated by Chief Human Resources Officer Yohna Chambers.

The chancellor answered more than 20 faculty-submitted questions, with topics ranging from the university’s budget to concerns about faculty and staff morale.

Enrollment figures, sustainability goals drive budget cuts

The first part of the town hall revolved around the university’s financial situation.

In August, Boschini announced a 12% reduction to the university’s operating budget totaling $65 million as a result of COVID-19.

Some faculty wondered why the cut was made even though the university’s total enrollment increased this year.

Read more: Chancellor talks enrollment increase, DEI initiatives and campus connections

While the figures rose, they did not increase as much as the university had budgeted for. Boschini said in September enrollment fell 2% under target and TCU had a $5.5 million shortfall as a result.

Along with the shortfall, Boschini said that the cut was made to provide more financial aid to students and help the university achieve its goal of making TCU more accessible.

He also cited the need for “fiscal conservatism” that the Board of Trustees has been emphasizing as the university looks toward the future.

Specifically, Boschini said reductions needed to be made because the board does not want to continue increasing the university’s tuition.

“What the board is saying to us is that we’re probably not going to do that in the future and I think what the community is saying to us this year is we definitely can’t do that in the future,” Boschini said about the prospect of raising tuition.

He predicted that the board will not raise tuition next year.

Another question cited the “gutting” of the Mary Couts Burnett Library budget and asked whether the university’s teacher-scholar model was in jeopardy as research resources decline.

Boschini pushed back against the idea that the library’s budget was gutted and pointed to its “$11 million” allocation as proof. He added that all areas of campus must be prepared to take their share of budget cuts.

“Did they have cuts? Yes, but so did everybody else and I think everybody just has to take their share of them,” he said.

Future cuts and layoffs also discussed

The chancellor deferred to Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Teresa Dahlberg when asked about the possibility of future budget cuts.

Dahlberg has been tasked with working with the university’s deans and department chairs to figure out which areas can be cut.

“We are doing a strategic examination of all of the undergraduate programs right now,” Boschini said.

Boschini also said layoffs or furloughs for faculty aren’t likely, but he would not rule them out due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

“If we have good enrollment again in the spring, which I’m really praying we will, I don’t see us having to do that right now,” he said. “I wouldn’t take that off the table because you never know what’s going to happen, and the one thing this pandemic has taught me is that you don’t know what’s going to happen because it changes all the time.”

Across the country, universities have been struggling to deal with the financial ramifications of COVID-19.

According to one estimate cited by The New York Times, the pandemic has cost colleges $120 billion and more universities are beginning to lay off or furlough employees and consolidate core programs.

The University of Florida, facing a $49 million budget shortfall due to COVID-19, is beginning the process of allowing faculty furloughs, while Ohio Wesleyan University has eliminated 18 majors.

First-year student enrollment is down more than 16%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, exacerbating the financial issues universities are facing.

Concerns about low faculty morale addressed

The town hall concluded with questions about why faculty morale feels low to some and what Boschini thinks can be done to improve it.

The chancellor attributed the low morale to a variety of factors.

“I think it’s a combination of we’re living in a pandemic, this is an extremely stressful time right now,” he said. “We’re living in fear a lot of us, we didn’t get raises, we have to make cuts, all these things. Negative, negative, negative.”

Faculty retirement benefits were reduced permanently in May and many expressed disappointment with the university’s lack of communication surrounding the decision.

Read more: Reductions to retirement benefits spark faculty concern

A vote of no confidence on university administration was considered over the summer and Faculty Senate Chair Sean Atkinson wrote an open letter calling for change.

One of the chief complaints from faculty has revolved around the lack of transparency from the university administration about TCU’s financial situation.

Atkinson said in his open letter the system of shared governance at TCU “is on the verge of collapse” and that the committees meant to support the system are met with “silence, indifference, or hostility” when trying to work with the university.

Boschini said at the town hall he is trying to fix this.

“I’m trying to communicate more and to get out there and be even more transparent. If people have ideas on how to do that, let me know because nobody wants to work at a downer,” he said.

The comments echo similar ones he made to TCU 360 in an email statement over the summer. In that email, Boschini expressed frustration that his efforts weren’t being recognized.

On faculty concerns that they were taking the brunt of the pandemic’s financial impact, Boschini responded by telling them to look at the data.

“You could ask questions, that would help, and get the data because the data would show you that that’s not happening,” he said.

Some faculty would likely welcome this offer of shared data.

A 2019 report by the Faculty Relations committee specifically asked the administration to share more budgetary data so the groups could work together to ensure a sustainable future for TCU.

“If clear evidence exists that TCU faces such a threat currently or in the near future, we invite the administration or other parties to share that data so that it can be vetted and discussed through proper channels of shared governance,” according to the report.

The town hall lasted about forty minutes and closed with Boschini setting a goal for the university to be “solidly” within the top 50 of the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings in the next 10 years.

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