University Stays Proactive During Budget Cut Uncertainty
February 4, 2016
Nicholls State University President Bruce Murphy stresses the importance of supporting higher education and addressing the public with factual information during the uncertain time of potential budget cuts.
Gov. John Bel Edward’s administration notified University officials across the state to prepare for a possible $131 million cut to the state’s higher education. Nicholls worked with other universities in the University of Louisiana System to put together a budget reduction contingency plan regarding the $38 million fraction from the total that the system is potentially accountable for. Each university in the system is accountable for 32 percent of the $38 million cut, putting Nicholls at a possible $2.5 million cut. Murphy said that Edward’s main idea is a 1 cent sales tax which has the potential of preventing these cuts.
“If the legislature takes [Edward’s] plan and says ‘hey that’s great’ and it comes through, there is no budget cut,” Murphy said. “If they say ‘we don’t want any of it,’ $2.5 million is what our budget cut is.”
The system as a whole came up with proposed actions that could go into effect to implement the reductions. Some of these actions include financial exigency and furlough; however, the full list of proposed actions does not represent Nicholls’ plans individually. Murphy also said that although budget reduction contingency plans have been made, definite actions for the cuts cannot be determined until the outcome of Edward’s plan has been determined.
“I took the position that we don’t know what we’re going to cut until we know what the cut is,” Murphy said. “If this gets approved, we are going to continue business as usual, which is what we want to do.”
Murphy said that if Edward’s plan were to be rejected entirely causing the University to be accountable for the $2.5 million in whole, Nicholls would probably face furlough for a period of time. If the cuts were to go into effect, they money would be needed by July 2016.
“If you need to get that much money in such a short amount of time, you have to do it where the money is,” Murphy said. “The money is in the payroll. So if we had to pay the full amount, we would probably have to furlough for a period of time.”
The University has been taking proactive precautions in order to cut back on spending during these cuts. Murphy said the University has essentially stopped hiring and slowed down the replacement of faculty.
“It doesn’t generate any money, but what it does it keeps us from paying a replacement,” Murphy said. “We’ve also pretty much cut back on supplies. These are just the normal things that you can do, but here’s no money there.”
Despite the cuts, the University has added new programs. Murphy said that new programs such as the criminal justice degree have been looked into and have been predicted to generate more revenue than they cost.
“Even in times when cuts are being made, you have to make investments because you’ll never get better if you don’t make them,” Murphy said. “Why would we develop new programs when we’re cutting? Because we see those as ways to gain revenue, so we’ll continue to do that. We’ll just try to offer to programs that will attract students, retain students and serve the needs of the region.”
Murphy said that program cuts are not to be expected despite these budget cuts.
“I think we’ve been fairly prudent,” Murphy said. “Those programs that are really costing us money are the ones that we really have to look at closely, but you don’t get that money this fiscal year by closing programs. Cutting a program won’t get us that money. We can’t get that figure by cutting a program. The semester is already paid for, why cut a program if students are already paying for a program?”
The University is working on “putting dollars behind efforts” such as attracting more students, building programs, attracting more faculty and having more options for students.
“Nicholls is a great institution now, but we want to make it better,” Murphy said. “If the governor’s plan gets approved, we’ll be able to continue and move forward on that.”
Murphy believes that Edwards’ commitment to higher education could be the “light at the end of the tunnel” during these times of potential budget cuts.
“He asked us for his support, and I support him,” Murphy said. “He is for higher education and he wants to lower the burden on students, which is what I’ve also been saying for two years. He believes in high quality, affordable, accessible higher education and I do too. He thinks it’s our obligation to provide that to our current and future students and he, as do I, believes that higher education is the way of the future for success and prosperity.”