As academic departments across the University gear up to prepare their tightened budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, some sacrifices may have to be made, but administrators and faculty said Monday that resources for scholarship and education will remain untouched.
Following the release of budget guidelines by the Provost’s Office on Friday, faculty and administrators said they expect to make the necessary cuts by reducing departmental social expenses and finding ways to eliminate or consolidate clerical tasks, though the precise shape the budgets will take remains uncertain. At the same time, they said they are confident the University’s academic programs will not suffer and that undergraduates will likely not notice a difference.
“We’re not going to cut faculty positions or number of courses taught or quality of instruction,” said Frances Rosenbluth, the chair of the Political Science Department. “I don’t think there’s any alarm or concern that the [reductions] will come at the expense of the department’s core missions.”
Although new budget guidelines mandate a 7.5 percent decrease in the budget for staff salaries, departmental administrators said they will try not to eliminate staff positions. Instead, they said they hope to rely on attrition and internal hiring to fill necessary empty positions.
“We’re saving Yale’s money to save Yale’s jobs,” said Glenda Gilmore, the acting chair of the Department of African American Studies.
In the Political Science Department, for example, there is a vacancy for the position of executive assistant to the chair, which will be filled by a current department receptionist, Rosenbluth said.
Another option, suggested Steve Girvin, the deputy provost for science and technology, is to have departments in the same building share clerical and technical staff. “We hope that will go a long way to minimizing layoffs,” Girvin said.
But layoffs may still occur. The unfavorable economic outlook has forced the University to cut deeper into staff salaries, meaning that the equivalent of 500 to 600 positions are slated to be eliminated. But administrators said Friday that the typical annual rate of attrition and turnover is only between 300 and 500.
Since the gap cannot be closed simply by leaving open positions vacant, the difference will have to be made with some involuntary layoffs, the administrators said.
Still, some chairs, such as anthropology professor William Kelly, said layoffs would have significant detrimental effects on their departments.
Anthropology has grown by seven faculty positions in the past two years, but no clerical staff have been added, Kelly said. Currently, the department has one staff member providing support to 22 faculty members, which Kelly said he thinks is an unusually low staff-to-faculty ratio. Kelly added that his department had approval to open a search to find a second staff member, but it was suspended by the Provost’s Office.
Michael Warner, the chair of the English Department, said his department cannot make staff cuts and will be forced to find other possible ways to save money.
Departments will need to become more critical of their expenditures and think more creatively about how to allocate work, said Jack Beecher, a senior director of business operations. Non-academic travel and supplies are possible candidates for elimination, he said.
Gilmore, too, said there are many behind-the-scenes departmental expenses that could potentially be cut, though she said faculty salaries are often seen as the most significant expenditure.
“Every little department is like a little company,” Gilmore said. “And we have lots of other expenses to run that department, from copying to taking job candidates out to dinner.”
Other professors said they expect that departments will cut down on social expenses. Richard Prum, the chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said items to be reassessed might include department retreats or hospitality for seminar speakers. Departments could also reduce the cost of the recruitment outings used to entice job candidates, Rosenbluth said, or refrain from applying research funds toward discussions of the project over dinner.
Although the science departments are subject to the same budget cuts as all other departments, they may have additional funds from which to draw thanks to President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package. The plan will allocate $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health, $3 billion to the National Science Foundation and $1.6 billion to the Department of Energy for research grants.
Girvin said he is not entirely sure how much additional grant funding Yale might receive, though he said he thinks there is a good chance that the NIH and NSF funding will help Yale’s situation.
But any extra grant money will come with strings attached. First, it must be used for specific research projects or laboratory renovation and equipment. Furthermore, the governmental requirement that projects be completed in just two years — much shorter than the average length of faculty research — will exclude a number of proposals.
At the same time, Girvin said the federal grant money could support graduate and postdoctoral students who are having difficulty finding jobs in the current economic climate. The possible increase in grant funding will also protect the jobs of Yale’s support staff, who manage grant funding and ensure spending complies with legal requirements, by giving their jobs increased relevance, Girvin said.
The Provost’s Office, Budget Office and Business Operations Leadership Team will be meeting with individual departments to help them complete their budgets by the May 1 deadline.