Preparations made for budget cuts

Lucy Hough

As the university faces the possibility of harrowing budget cuts, NMU President Les Wong is approaching Northern’s financial issues with what he feels is an appropriate motto: “It’s better to have a plan and not use it than to need one and not have one.”

About two weeks ago, Wong asked each department at NMU to assess ways to remove a percentage of its budget in order to cut $10 million from NMU’s overall budget. These plans are meant to ensure that if state allocations to Northern are lessened, the university will not feel the cuts too harshly.

“We saw the storm coming and started making initial decisions,” Wong said.

Wong is working with what has become the NMU Budget Team to make this transition smooth. The team includes Vice President of Finance and Administration Gavin Leach, Director of Marketing and Communications Cindy Paavola and deans of colleges, among others. The team will watch the state budget to see how it will affect Northern.

Gov. Jennifer Granhom is expected to announce the proposed budget today, Thursday, Feb. 12.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it is projected that the state will experience a shortfall of about $200 million in 2009 and 1.6 billion dollars in 2010. The 2010 shortfall is approximately 14.3 percent of the total state budget, and Wong decided to use this number as a basis for what Northern should cut.

“Hopefully, we don’t need to implement at the levels that we set, but we are also being cautious,” Leach said. “We want to be prepared and make the appropriate decisions, the best decisions for the institution.”

Wong said that the last thing that will be addressed is tuition.

The university receives its revenue from two primary sources: tuition and allocated costs. Both of these are directly linked to the number of enrolled students at NMU.

Currently, tuition accounts for about 5 percent more than allocated costs. Normally, if allocated costs are cut, the university makes up for that loss by raising tuition.

However, in Granholm’s State of the State address last week, she proposed a statewide freeze on tuition, and it has been assumed that schools joining in the freeze will be given an increase in allocated money.

Wong said that he is waiting for details about the freeze, but it is something he is considering.

“The governor and I share the same values about access and affordability. I agree with her whole-heartedly,” he said. “We cannot allow tuition to climb.”

The stimulus plan that was

recently passed in the Senate may offer help to Northern as well.

This, like the state budget, is still uncertain, because details have not been ironed out about how the state will be asked to allocate its money from the stimulus plan.

As more information becomes known, all departments on campus are having to consider ways to cut 6 and 10 percent from their budgets. Possible ways to do this include eliminating classes and rearranging curriculum, making more classes acceptable to fulfill requirements, assessing equipment costs or cutting personnel.

“What they would be considering primarily is how we would offer a responsible curriculum. That’s our goal. That’s why we are here, to provide a curriculum that students have come to take with us,” said Terry Seethof, Dean of Arts and Sciences and member of the Budget Team.

Seethof said that in his 40 years at Northern, he has seen the university take many adverse situations in stride, ultimately coming out ahead. He believes the coming years will be much the same.

“We’ve got bright people, bright faculty, bright staff, bright students and we can think our way through difficult situations,” Seethof said.

Wong asked students to become involved in this process, as well, by voicing their ideas about how Northern can cut costs.

In an e-mail to all students, he emphasized his belief that they should have a say in what happens to their university.

“There’s no better judge of what you’re doing than your customers,” Wong said. “I’ve been impressed with how sophisticated students are in understanding the issues. It may very well be that the issues on campus are issues that students will confront in their lives.”

Wong’s ultimate hope is that the Northern community will be able to come together to make the transition smoother.

“I do worry a lot about it, but my worry is also tempered by my confidence in the good judgment of the people here. I think as a campus we’re going to come together, and it’s not going to be easy,” Wong said.