ULS president: ‘All institutions are vulnerable’

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent announcement of a possible $370 million cut to higher education for 2015-16 has University of Louisiana System schools planning for reductions of both 40 percent and 60 percent in state funding.

ULS President Sandra Woodley said that when dealing with cuts of this magnitude, “all institutions are vulnerable.”

“While we are certainly having discussions with our nine universities about strategies in case a solution is not found to mitigate the proposed cuts in higher education, it is very difficult to find a strategic way to implement a 40 to 60 percent cut to state funding in one year,” she said.

According to University of Louisiana at Monroe President Nick Bruno, a 40 percent to 60 percent cut would mean a $10 million to $14 million reduction in state funding, essentially the amount needed to run the university’s School of Pharmacy, which has a $12 million operating budget.

Bruno used the school’s signature program as an example to quantify the magnitude of the potential cuts, not to indicate the program was in danger of being eliminated.

The possibility of further cuts to budgets that have been gradually reduced since 2009 has all area presidents and chancellors concerned and nervously awaiting the final version of the governor’s budget to be released in late February.

Bruno said ULM already is operating with $13 million less than before July 2009.

“That’s considering that we’ve increased tuition 10 percent over the last several years, but we’ve also had to fund mandated employee costs that the state paid for us prior to 2009, so that’s an additional $7 million,” he said. “We’re operating with $20 million less resources. Not many businesses can operate that way.”

To compensate for the previous cuts, the university has consolidated colleges and reduced the workforce by 300 employees. Bruno said faculty bonuses awarded during the past school year will not be repeated this year, and the university will look at all efficiencies possible to reduce spending.

Grambling interim President Cynthia Warrick said it’s too premature for the university to have specific cuts in mind.

“We’re going to fight the cut,” she said. “”We’re already operating at a deficit.”

Warrick said the university is under a hiring freeze and is working on increasing revenues through public-private partnerships and student recruitment.

Louisiana Tech University President Les Guice was out of town at a conference and unavailable for comment.

Louisiana Delta Community College Chancellor Barbara Hanson said the college is not making specific plans for cuts but remains “focused on our mission.”

“While we share the concern, we believe it is important for our most trusted partners and the communities served by Louisiana Delta Community College to know that our focus remains on the mission of training and educating Louisiana citizens to meet this season of unprecedented economic growth in our great state,” she said.

Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said he believes that most legislators won’t grasp the severity of the state’s financial position until the executive budget comes out at the end of February.

“I haven’t found anyone that feels like we can let higher education have the types of cuts that have been released to the media so far,” he said. “This is the biggest challenge there has been any time since I’ve been in the Legislature. But it’s our responsibility to work it out to make sure government keeps functioning to the level that the body wants it to.”

Follow Barbara Leader on Twitter @BarbaraLeader1.