University Forum – Solutions to proposed budget cuts discussed

Robyn Goodman

NMU is facing a significant challenge after a proposed budget cut of $8.9 million, said President Les Wong, addressing a full room of staff, faculty and students.

During the university forum on Wednesday, April 20, Wong, Provost Susan Koch, Vice President of Finance Gavin Leach and Director of Human Resources Ann Sherman discussed the changes that the university has talked about implementing after the proposed budget by Gov. Rick Snyder is either approved or denied.

Wong stated that the goals of the proposed model the Board of Trustees created include protecting student experience, minimizing impact on curriculum, strategic positioning of the university and remaining on course for the Roadmap of 2015.

President Les Wong addresses an audience of student, faculty and staff on the budget. Other administrators gave presentations on healthcare changes, academic strategy and answered questions regarding those issues. The forum was Wednesday, April 20 in Jamrich 102. // Ashley Wiggins/NW

In order to make up for the loss of funds, the board plans on cutting $2 million from faculty and staff healthcare. In this proposal, faculty and staff would have to pay more for co-pays and office visits, said Leach.

“While those costs will go up, we are keeping in line with other plans and the average for the state,” Leach said.

Clients will have more say in what kind of lab tests and procedures they want and need, and use their health insurance appropriately.

“Instead of going to the emergency room for a cold, you would go and see your personal physician,” Leach said.

In a positioning statement released by the NMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), NMU is neither in a budget crisis nor in need of healthcare changes to supplement the supposed crisis.

According to the statement issued, “NMU’s unrestricted assets have grown from $34.2 million in 2004 to $88.5 million last year.”

Wong stated that the many people believe that the university should use that surplus of funds to cover the loss of funding from the state government, but said that if the university really had $88.5 million in unrestricted assets, it would do so, but the university does not have that money.

Along with changes in healthcare, Koch brought up having to cut 12 or possibly 24 faculty positions in order to save money. She also said that the university would have to possibly reduce the funding to the Wildcat Innovation Fund, equipment expenses and library acquisitions.

“These are very, very important to the delivery of the curriculum, so I have to take a deep breath when I say that,” Koch said. “We’ve gotten some very good advice from the professionals at the library on what we can do without.”

Also brought up at the forum was the possibility of having students sign a three-year lease for their computers, which could possibly save roughly $500,000, Wong said.

“While students would keep their computers longer, we would upgrade both the MacBooks and the ThinkPad,” he said.

The healthcare changes will be decided on by the labor unions by May 1, while the cuts to staff and faculty will be decided on and announced by June 16. The tuition and other changes will be discussed at the July Board of Trustees meeting.