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Budget task force calls for reduction of faculty

Arts and Sciences can best address projected budget deficits by cutting up to 50 faculty positions, the Arts and Sciences Council Budget Task Force said Thursday in a long-awaited report.

The task force--established last year to find solutions to projected deficits--said that Arts and Sciences' financial problems are structural and could not be remedied by stopgap measures. In presenting its report to the Arts and Sciences Council's monthly meeting, the task force suggested returning the faculty size to 1995 levels.

Although Arts and Sciences managed to avoid a budget deficit for the 2003 fiscal year, officials expect its deficit to increase dramatically over the next five years, reaching a peak of $6.1 million by the 2006 fiscal year. Arts and Sciences this year has a $220.8 million budget.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe said the projections rested on the assumption that undergraduate tuition revenues, the main funding source for Arts and Sciences, would increase at an annual rate of 4 percent. He said the rate could vary, depending on trends at other elite schools.

If tuition rates increase by more than 4 percent, the task force said Arts and Sciences might make fewer cuts. Given the current revenue estimates, however, the task force said it may be necessary to cut the number of faculty searches to 17 each year for the next three years, replacing just half of departing faculty. By contrast, Arts and Sciences filled an average of 34 faculty positions over the past five years.

Chafe commissioned the task force in December 2001 to examine the viability of cutting expenditures in four areas: faculty size, average faculty compensation, doctoral training support and faculty research support. Of these, the task force recommended considering only faculty size and faculty compensation.

Some council members expressed reservations about a faculty size reduction, especially since many departments have aimed for expansion in the coming years. Professor of Public Policy Studies Philip Cook, who headed the task force, said some of the proposed expansions were "probably not consistent with reality."

John Thompson, chair of the history department, released a statement expressing concern that a decrease in faculty size may damage morale.

Cook, while admitting the process could be painful, said a potential cut would not put Duke's faculty size significantly below that of other elite private schools.

"Surprisingly, we have a larger faculty than some," he said, noting that Stanford University's faculty is smaller. "If we had to cut back the size of the faculty, we'd be moving back to a period in recent history, not unknown territory."

Between the 1992 and 2001 fiscal years, Arts and Sciences grew rapidly, netting an additional $113 million in revenue, $26 million of which was invested in increasing the faculty size. Over the same period, the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty increased by 18 to a total of 454 and other regular-rank faculty increased by 26 to 109.

The task force prioritized cutting faculty size over reducing compensation, citing the need for quality over quantity. According to the report, the University must keep wages reasonable to attract and retain the best scholars.

"We won't rule out the possibility of cutting salaries, but if we want to remain competitive... that would be a dangerous way of going about it," Cook said.

The report cites the economic slowdown and the University's efforts to keep tuition rates competitive as reasons for the projected budget deficits. Chafe and Cook predicted more difficulty for the American economy, and that revenues will likewise remain depressed.

Among the budget's fastest growing expenditures will be capital projects, programmatic appropriations and strategic initiatives, increasing by about $10 million in the next five years.

Cook explained that the increases resulted from Arts and Sciences assuming a portion of those costs from the provost's office, which had helped pay those costs in the past.

Faculty will likely continue discussing the task force's proposals throughout the semester. No final decision will be made until the spring, when Chafe and the administration begin finalizing the budget process for the upcoming year.

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