Departments struggle with new budget cuts

As the cuts to this year’s budget run deeper, department heads say the savings are becoming harder to find.

The administration is now asking departments to squeeze another 5 percent of reductions out of the current year’s non-personnel spending, in addition to the 7.5 percent cuts in personnel and non-personnel spending they have already made, and in addition to further cuts that will be made in future years. Department heads said these cuts will start affecting conferences and programming themselves, not just the refreshments served at them.

The new cuts became necessary because the University had planned for an economic rebound that did not come. The administration now has to make up for the rest of the lost income from the endowment’s 24.6 percent plunge that it did not recapture in the first round of cuts.

Provost Peter Salovey said the administration understands that each successive round of cuts is harder for departments’ budgets to absorb.

“We try as much as we can to recognize that it’s not easy to make cuts,” he said. “You feel them. At the same time, we have to reduce expenses.”

University President Richard Levin said there are still more opportunities for savings by reducing spending on office supplies, entertainment and food.

As department heads try to find their additional 5 percent, Salovey is pulling together staff and faculty to brainstorm expenses they could stand to lose.

“I think there is more,” he said.

Faculty from departments across the University reluctantly agreed. Though trimming the fat will be “painful,” as Economics Department chairman Christopher Udry put it, department heads said they would be able to make cuts without compromising core academic programs.

Along with trimming funding for receptions, dinners and other entertainment, several departments — including the Film Studies, Sociology, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations departments — are beginning to host smaller conferences and bring fewer guest speakers to campus than in past years. Many guest speakers who do come to Yale will do so by invitation of multiple departments or centers as departments pool their resources, Sociology Department chairman Karl Mayer said.

Film Studies Department co-chairman Dudley Andrew said he will downsize the department’s annual film conference to help meet the budget requirement. Fewer guest lecturers will speak, and fewer new 35mm films will be shown.

“That’s a shame as far as I’m concerned,” Andrew said.

But while the Film Studies Department has already begun planning for a tighter budget this year, the Comparative Literature Department — which Andrew also heads — has few ideas about how to make budget reductions, he said.

The Comparative Literature Department will undoubtedly admit a smaller class of graduate students next year, but it is unclear what other changes will be made beyond that measure, he said.

Although the latest round of departmental budget cuts is expected to come out of non-personnel spending, some departments are still relying on staff attrition and decreased hiring to make ends meet. While the Geology and Geophysics Department will hire fewer postdoctoral fellows, the Sociology Department has cut its operating budget for the current year in half by leaving a senior administrative position unfilled. There will also be fewer graduate students in the Sociology Department next year, Mayer said.

Budget cuts are especially difficult to make for smaller departments, which often have small operating budgets to begin with, said Benjamin Foster, the acting chairman of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department. Though undergraduate instruction will remain largely untouched, he said, the department’s plans to expand course offerings in languages such as Turkish, Babylonian and Persian are on hold until Yale’s endowment recovers.

“The only area where we can reduce costs is the one area where undergrads need us the most, language instruction,” Foster said. “But it’s chickenfeed compared to the rest of Yale’s budget.”

Mayer said it was difficult to imagine where cuts could be made in the coming years, as the Sociology Department’s operating budget has already been stripped down to support only essential teaching functions such as making photocopies.

But all six department heads interviewed said undergraduate instruction would remain untouched.

“It’s certainly not going to be trivial to find additional cuts,” Udry said. “We have a lot of teaching needs and a lot of needs for student support, and we’re going to protect those as best we can.”

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