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The GW Hatchet

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Departments slash budgets to make up for $20 million deficit

Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

The University is cutting back.

Officials looking to hire department staffers will be delayed three months, said Joseph Cordes, who leads the Faculty Senate’s finance committee. GW has also cut back on new faculty hires, travel expenses and consulting fees to make up for a $20 million budget shortfall.

GW had to dip into its reserves after programs needed an extra $10 million to cover surprise costs, and a graduate enrollment slump caused schools to miss out on $10 million in projected tuition revenue.

“The University is currently engaging in some belt-tightening, which translates into cuts in the budgets of the schools,” Cordes said. “Delay in hiring replacements is one common way of holding budgetary expenses in line.”

Still, the shortfall is just about 1 percent of GW’s annual operating budget.

Charles Garris, an engineering professor and the chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said though the $20 million in losses “sounds like a tremendous amount,” because the University’s total operating budget is about $1 billion, it’s not “as staggering as it might sound.”

“They have a task on their hands to reduce the budget,” he said. “I understand that they don’t think it’s a long-range trend, just a shortfall we experienced.”

The University’s expenses grew twice as much revenue last year, at a total rate of about 8 percent.

Provost Steven Lerman said at the annual Faculty Assembly that “we tried as much as possible to keep the cuts from affecting the academic side units.” Lerman cut one position from his cabinet, and officials stripped about $6 million from offices that report to the president and treasurer.

GW will already see millions of dollars in savings since it decided to outsource its endowment office last spring, cutting out a multi-million dollar, nine-person department from the University’s budget.

About 10 percent of the cuts made affected GW’s schools, while the rest were cuts across other non-academic areas of the University, Lerman said.

“Administrators are being asked to postpone spending on non-time-sensitive needs and be good stewards of resources by exploring strategies such as more favorable renegotiation of contracts that might be up for renewal and making strategic choices on discretionary spending,” University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said.

When preparing this year’s budget, department heads in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences were asked to cut costs where possible. Lerman has also pushed all the schools to launch new online programs. Other schools will look to start new graduate programs, many of which will be online, to bring in more money.

Jean Johnson, the dean of the School of Nursing, said her school tried to put on more webinars to increase revenue and attend local conferences to cut down on travel costs, which she said should be a model for ways all schools can save costs.

“There aren’t too many other opportunities. I wish there were. I wish there could be something that none of us have thought about,” Johnson said.

Other than raising tuition, the University is mostly limited to bringing in grants or more students to increase its revenue, Johnson said. Raising tuition is “never popular,” Johnson added, because of GW’s already high sticker price. The University depends on tuition for more than 60 percent of its annual revenue.

Several departments have cut back on part-time faculty, which Robert Eisen, the chair of the department of religion, said has lowered the number of courses taught in his department this semester.

Eisen, who has been at GW for 25 years, said the University has had to cut back on expenses in the past after it made lofty predictions.

“If they cut out a certain amount, they don’t always restore what you’ve lost, even in better times, and that’s just been the history of it,” he said.

Hiring an associate professor can cost a university about $150,000, while hiring an adjunct professor is typically half as expensive. Of the 66 open faculty positions GW has posted on its jobs website, more than half are within the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Medical Faculty Associates. Many are searches that GW had hoped to fill last fall or earlier this year.

Leaders of the Faculty Association said they would push officials to make GW’s budgeting process more transparent this year. The Board of Trustees also announced last year it would take on more oversight of GW’s budgeting process.

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