New cuts hurt small depts.

Though the University’s latest round of budget cuts hits all departments evenly, some are feeling the pinch more than others.

Facing another 5 percent cut in this year’s non-personnel expenses — in addition to the 7.5 percent cuts in personnel and non-personnel spending they have already made — Yale’s smaller departments, which often operate on tight budgets to begin with, are having particular difficulty finding places to trim.

With few faculty members and few students, departments such as East Asian Studies, Judaic Studies, and Slavic Languages and Literatures already rely on tiny administrative staffs and modest operating budgets to support teaching, research and other academic activities. That leaves them with little to cut, 10 department chairs said in interviews.

“We’re a small department with a small operating budget,” said Benjamin Foster, the acting chairman of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department. “We can’t cut anything significantly.”

During the previous round of budget cuts, all departments decreased personnel and non-personnel spending by 7.5 percent, often by leaving vacant staff positions open. The cuts left many small departments to make do with one or two registrars and administrative assistants.

Since losing one staff member last year, East Asian Studies chair Haun Saussy said, the department has relied on two assistants who administer both graduate and undergraduate programs as well as perform other departmental tasks.

“We’re really running with a skeleton crew,” Saussy said.

Some have begun sharing their staff with other departments in the same building, such as the Religious Studies and Comparative Literature departments. Large departments with more administrative staff can lose an employee and spread extra work between several people, but many small departments must reduce the number of hours their staff work to realize savings, Judaic Studies chair Steven Fraade said.

“If you have one administrative staff, you have to cut the number of hours a person works,” Fraade said.

Meanwhile, the Anthropology Department’s 29 faculty members share only one staff member, and the department’s plans to hire another have been frozen, Anthropology chair William Kelly said. Although Anthropology has added 10 faculty over the past 30 months, the department’s “bare bones” budget never grew to accommodate the additions, he added.

Provost Peter Salovey acknowledged that each round of budget cuts gets harder to make.

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

He did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

The cuts may be painful, but even small Yale departments are fortunate relative to their counterparts at other universities, Religious Studies chair Harry Stout said. He added that the budget disparities between large and small Yale departments would not affect the undergraduate experience.

“I don’t think our majors suffer at all in relation to history majors,” Stout said.

All departments are finding more savings in expenses including photocopy paper, refreshments at social events and guest lectures.

“We were never profligate, but we’ve become very austere,” Slavic Languages and Literatures chair Vladimir Alexandrov said. In addition to reductions in entertainment spending, subsidies for graduate student travel and language clubs have dropped, sometimes by as much as two-thirds, he added.

But for departments looking to expand their academic offerings, the real disappointment may come from being unable to hire new professors and lecturers until the University’s endowment rebounds. Alexandrov said Slavic Languages and Literatures had hoped to hire several new faculty to replace retirees, but those appointments have been put on hold.

And though student interest in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations’ Turkish, Babylonian and Persian programs has increased recently, Foster said, the department cannot add lecturers to support student research.

“A small program in Babylonian, that kind of thing — you either kill it or keep it going,” Foster said.

The latest cuts put pressure on budgets that were already stretched thin, Kelly said.

“Five percent is an easy and seemingly equitable way to do it, but in fact it’s a spurious equity,” he said. “Five percent of an inflated budget hurts a lot less than 5 percent of a bare-bones budget.”

The reductions come as the University attempts to reduce the budget shortfall caused by the endowment’s 24.6 percent plunge in 2008.

Comments

  • David ’97

    Seems like a worthy cause for targeted alumni donations…at least it wouldn’t go to Yale’s bloated administration.