President Les Wong delivered a somber speech on Tuesday that addressed how budget cuts and the economic situation in Michigan would affect the future of NMU.
At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31, Wong hosted a university forum in front of a crowd of approximately 250 faculty, staff and students in Jamrich 103. He outlined issues that NMU will face in the upcoming years, including an expected $4.6 million shortfall of state appropriated funding in fiscal year 2010. Appropriated funding is money that is guaranteed to the university from the state.
“Ultimately, as a community, we are going to have to plan our way through the storms ahead,” said Wong.
Wong laid out next year’s budget. Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan House of Representatives have already approved their respective budget proposals for allocation of funding to public universities, and the Senate will likely have their own proposal ready by the end of May or beginning of June.
The governor and legislature will combine their efforts to approve a final budget, hopefully by fall semester 2010, Wong said.
“I think I am being kind by saying hopefully before fall semester, but there is every reason to believe that that will occur,” he said.
In the governor’s budget proposal, NMU would lose 3.2 percent of its total appropriations from the state. This consists of a 3 percent cut of the total budget for all public universities in Michigan. Also included is the elimination of all King-Chavez-Parks funding, which accounts for another .2 percent of NMU’s funding. The King-Chavez-Parks funding is most often used by NMU to pay for diversity oriented projects.
State appropriations is one of the two different ways a public university receives funding. The other source of revenue is tuition. In the governor’s proposal, the lost appropriations will be replaced by money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (Stimulus Bill).
Wong said he had problems with the governor’s proposal. For example, to receive the “stimulus dollars,” a university would have to agree to a tuition freeze and that in 2012 the “stimulus dollars” would be gone. This would leave universities spending more money than they have. The only option left for universities, would be to raise tuition to bridge the sizeable gap between what they will be paying for and what money they actually have, said Wong.
“When I was at (the governor’s) house, I was busily scribbling on a napkin,” said Wong. “What I was trying to figure out was how much of a tuition increase we would have to implement in order to catch up. and the number that I came up with was 19 plus percent.”
This would mean that in order to rebalance NMU’s budget in 2012 after the “stimulus dollars” ran out, NMU would have to raise tuition nearly 20 percent.
During the speech, Wong discussed long and short term options that are available to NMU in terms of cutting the budget, so that if such a plan is implemented, the shock will not be so great. Some of the options he discussed were a potential salary freeze for NMU employees, reorganizing the school year to have “summer break” during the winter to help cut down on heating costs and the idea of mandatory and voluntary furloughs, which are unpaid leaves of absence. These ideas are dependent on a lot of variables, including how much is appropriated by the state and what is feasible for the university to implement.
“Our habit at NMU is to put things on the table and get ideas out there so that we can get to solutions as early as we can,” said Wong. According to Wong, budget cuts and reallocations of funding are going to happen and NMU will have to change to address these issues. Wong ended the speech on a positive note, saying he believes the university will withstand whatever future awaits NMU.
“We have risen above challenges in the past, and I am confident that we will do so again.”
According to ASNMU President Hobie Webster, who attended the speech, President Wong is actively working with all levels of the NMU community to ensure that all voices are heard and all solutions are explored.
“President Wong is seeking out everyone’s advice,” said Webster, “He wants to hear ideas.”
Provost Susan Koch, who was also present at the forum, said one of the most important things to take away from Wong’s speech was that a preservation of the student experience, in and out of the curriculum, is a top priority.
“We are going to do everything we can to preserve that experience,” said Koch.
To view the speech, with its power point, http://www.nmu.edu/president/forums.htm.