P&S Council gets update on Reimagining LAS initiative

After tightening its budget in recent years, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) already has a lean staff as it begins the Reimagining LAS initiative to close the college's growing deficits, dean Beate Schmittmann told the Professional and Scientific Council at its April 7 meeting.

Schmittmann said that makes significant staff cuts unlikely in the three-year process to streamline LAS, which has a $11.4 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2022 projected to grow to $15 million in FY2025 if changes aren't made. Any staff positions lost would likely be openings that aren't filled.

"We think we can handle this with natural attrition," she said.

While solving a $1 million per month deficit isn't pleasant, it does offer an opportunity to rethink how the college can bolster growing programs, support distinctive research, and respond to student and workforce needs, Schmittmann said. The varying departmental budget reductions that are part of the initiative reflect the need to refocus the college's resources.

"The cuts had to be differential because that really drives this reconfiguring," she said.

Schmittmann said departmental reductions ranging from zero to 25% were data-driven, based on current levels and trends in both program enrollment and overall student credit hours, as well as research productivity.

The college will take on 40% of the $15 million shortfall centrally with a combination of reduced services, all-funds budgeting, reallocation of unrestricted revenue and aggressive pursuit of new revenue, she said. Budget targets need to be met by FY2026.

Between the differential cuts and repayment of outstanding debt, departments will shoulder about 60% of the deficit. Savings will be determined by department leaders but could come from adjusting course offerings and phasing out or merging programs, which Schmittmann said will follow all university and state Board of Regents policies. The board recently approved a retirement incentive for eligible LAS faculty.

Schmittmann asked council members to be mindful of the stress the initiative is causing among the college's faculty.

"This will require some of our departments to really rethink what they do, how they do it and who they serve. And that's difficult in the best of times," she said.

In other business, the council:

  • Elected Matthew Femrite as vice president of university planning and budget. Council officers are elected at the March meeting, but there were no nominees for this position when officer elections were held last month.
  • Discussed conducting a survey to study the differences in how WorkFlex, the flexible work program for staff, is being applied in different units across campus.
  • Approved a motion seeking additional information about a technical issue related to sick time converting to vacation. University human resources said more information will be released in the near future.