Small classes fall victim to budget cuts

Although the primary mission of the University’s budget cuts is to protect undergraduate academics, students may soon feel the effects of a cost-conscious Duke.

Academic departments in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences have not been asked to make any more cuts. Last semester, the administration asked departments to reduce their budgets by 10 percent, a measure that led to minimizing administrative costs and discretionary funds.

Budgetary decisions are mostly left to individual departments, but the Trinity administration has begun to take a more active role in cutting.

Courses with enrollments of five to eight students were evaluated, and about 20 courses were cut this academic year, said Lee Baker, dean of academic affairs of Trinity College. Baker estimated that only 25 students were affected by the decisions, adding that those small courses were “not a good use of... tuition dollars.”

Courses being cut are taught by non-regular rank professors, Baker noted.

“We have been trying to keep [course eliminations] under the radar,” Baker said. “We will see if it works. That seems to me like a perfectly reasonable experiment to take because maybe it won’t work, but hopefully it won’t impact course availability or course size or undergraduate research.”

Smaller Duke, smaller Trinity

The University has also reduced its faculty hiring. Carla Antonaccio, chair of the classical studies department and professor of archaeology and classical studies, said administrators are limiting hiring in Trinity to 10 new faculty members whereas in a normal year 20 to 30 new professors would join the faculty.

“[The administrators] don’t want to make commitments that they can’t keep in the long run,” Antonaccio said.

Michael Munger, chair of the political science department, said the cut in additional faculty is a form of attrition. He added that the reduction of new faculty members will not affect next academic year, but it could be a problem for Fall 2011 because hiring is a long process.

Munger emphasized that tenure track faculty have not been affected by the budget cuts. Faculty salaries have remained static, although professors do not yet know if there will be a raise pool, Munger said.

The reduction in new faculty, however, does affect departments who are losing professors next year.

Three or four professors in the cultural anthropology department will be on leave next year, said Orin Starn, chair of the cultural anthropology department. Starn said he will not be able to replace all of those positions, so students will see fewer cultural anthropology classes.

“Certainly for next year, there is not money for us to offer as many courses as we would like,” Starn said “It’s just like, ‘What is the minimum number of courses you need to have a good curriculum?’”

Much of the money saved has come from two retirement incentives offered to University employees, in addition to regular employee turnover.

In total, 384 employees accepted early retirement packages offered this academic year as budgetary reduction measures.

George McLendon, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences, said the administration restructured departments and reallocated responsibilities to consolidate.

“Some small number of positions were eliminated and it wasn’t the individual’s choice,” McLendon said. “That doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the individual, they just didn’t have that job anymore. As we started looking at how to make the most efficient use of resources, some jobs just disappeared.”

McLendon could not say how many people were laid off.

Departmental restructuring due to the retirement incentives and layoffs, however, has resulted in increased workloads for remaining employees.

“We are balancing the budget on the backs of people who are at the bottom of the food chain because we will not cut faculty salaries,” said Alexander Rosenberg, chair of the philosophy department and professor of philosophy. “The... administrative-support employees make the smallest amount of money and are the most vulnerable.”

Baker said departmental restructuring has been an effort to utilize staff members more efficiently.

“People have been very understanding, people have been very creative and they have been forced to identify priorities,” Baker said.

Cutting into certificates

Cuts are also beginning to apply to some certificate programs. Baker said some certificates’ budgets will be cut by 10 percent next fiscal year.

But some programs have already been forced to cut.

Tom Rankin, director of the Center for Documentary Studies and director of the documentary studies certificate, said the certificate program plans to reduce its budget by 10 to 15 percent. He added that the cuts have been largely administrative, but that the certificate is making changes to instruction.

“We are not adding any new courses, but we are trying to maintain all existing courses,” Rankin said. “Enrollment [sizes] are higher than they used to be.”

Funding for certificates varies by program. Many certificates have access to grants and funding from graduate schools, which has helped allow them to avoid significant cuts.

‘Next year will be the worst year’

Although academic departments have cut their budgets by 10 percent across the board, Baker said the cuts have not affected every department and program equally.

“It’s a grab bag,” Baker said. “It’s not super consistent.”

Dan Kiehart, chair of the biology department and a professor of biology, said the natural sciences departments have been able to endure cuts well.

“I think that unlike other departments that don’t have other fund codes to turn to, the natural sciences bring in a fair amount of external funds which, if appropriate, can be used to take up some of the slack,” Kiehart said.

There is still a level of uncertainty concerning next year’s budgets, though.

Budgets are currently being finalized as departments conclude their meetings with Sandy Connolly, senior associate dean for finance and administration. Connolly was not available to comment after multiple requests.

“[The Germanic languages and literature department] will have, to some extent, fewer courses and fewer options for students and the courses will have more students,” said William Donahue, chair of the department. “It’s regrettable, but my sense is that the academic integrity is being protected as much as possible. Despite the cuts, we are very privileged.”

But Munger said the University has yet to see the worst of the downturn. He added that the administration is implementing budget reductions now in anticipation of next year.

“Next year will be the worst year,” Munger said. “We will have only limited money in terms of how tight the budget is.”

Department chairs, however, are optimistic and appreciate that administrators have given them control of where to trim.

“We need to remind ourselves what the core of our curricula is and try not to let this economic moment erode the quality or depth of programs,” Rankin said. “It’s harder, but I think it’s quite possible.”


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