UNI Faces A Crisis Of Priorities, Not Budget, Visiting Professor Says
Howard Bunsis, a representative of the American Association of United Professors, spoke about UNI's finances Thursday.
Visiting university budget expert Howard Bunsis told about 200 faculty, students and community members Thursday that the University of Northern Iowa does not need to eliminate academic programs or faculty positions to fix its budget woes.
He said the university, which recently announced the closure of more than 50 academic programs and Malcolm Price Laboratory School, among other cuts, is suffering from a crisis of misplaced priorities rather than a budget crisis.
Bunsis, a faculty member at Eastern Michigan University, is the chair of the American Association of University Professor’s Collective Bargaining Congress. The AAUP, which is affiliated with campus union United Faculty, has announced it will formally investigate UNI after controversy over the recent budget cuts.
Bunsis said UNI has around $70 million in unrestricted financial reserves. He said much of that money is likely designated for specific purposes, but the university administration could decide to use some of it to plug current budget gaps.
However, he said such a solution would not be viable if budget cuts from the state become "chronic."
UNI Vice President for Administration and Financial Services Michael Hager, speaking with reporters after the presentation, said he feels state cuts have already reached the chronic level.
"How many years have we had a budget decline in state appropriations? It reaches a point where it feels like more than a one time issue," he said. "There are funds you can use for one time cuts, but if it's ongoing, you need to change the strategy a little bit."
In recent years, UNI, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have had their state funding slashed on an annual basis.
Bunsis, however, said with increasing state revenue, he doesn't expect that trend to continue.
Even if it does, "You still cut administrative costs first," he said. "UNI’s administrative costs are much higher than peer organizations."
Hager acknowledged this is true.
"The numbers to some extent are the numbers. Interpretation of the numbers is always the question, and for the most part I think most of the numbers seemed to be interpreted appropriately," he said of Bunsis's analysis.
However, he said the "administration" category of UNI's budget may seem inflated compared to peer universities because UNI puts a lot of things in that category that other universities put in an "other" catergory. He said UNI's "other" category is much smaller than many peer universities.
"We don't like that category," he said. "We want to be real clear with what it is."
Bunsis also discussed UNI's athletic budget, of which he said about $4.7 million comes from the general fund. He said it wasn't his place to tell the university community whether that was appropriate or not, just that people should be aware of it.
In the end, United Faculty President Cathy DeSoto said she hopes the meeting, which was attended by several administrators, can be the start of more open conversations between administration and faculty.
"We want to have town hall style meetings. We want to have it explained," she said. "Nobody wants to have rumors. We want to know why. We want to have conversations.”
Bunsis's full presentation will be available on the United Faculty website at some point on Friday, DeSoto said. UNI administration also released a statement on university finances that is available online.
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