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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

College of Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Budget Cuts are taking their toll across UC Davis, and the College of Mathematics and Physical Sciences (MPS) has not gone unscathed.

“Budget cuts such as [those] imposed on the campus in the past 16 months are new to most of us,” said Warren Pickett, professor and chair of the physics department.

According to Pickett, seven percent of the college’s operating budget was cut in July 2008, but the newest budget reductions demanded are greater than 50 percent more. These cuts come in addition to diminished staff salaries affected through the furlough program implemented in September.

“The budgets cuts this time come at the end of a period of reductions and several years of unfunded enrollment growth,” said Bruno Nachtergaele, professor and chair of the mathematics department. “There is little money left in reserves, if any, and the university’s retirement fund is in bad shape.”

The college has already made reductions in the number of TAs, lectures, sections per course as well as the decision to leave many staff positions vacant in lieu of rehiring after retirements.

“We had to close two courses and increase class sizes in existing courses,” said Carlito B. Lebrilla, professor and chair of the chemistry department. “A lot of other staff positions that support teaching [such as those for] electronics equipment and the lab dispensary have been diminished also.”

The mathematics department has reduced its operating budget by 30 percent, cutting expenses by 20 percent by having staff pay for their own paper copying services and replacing standard phones with internet-based VoIP phones. The remaining 10 percent, however, came out of department reserves, which is likely to be unavailable if further cuts are made next year.

“The proposed cuts, approaching 10 percent [of] our departmental operating budget for 2009-10 are much more draconian than any I can recall in my 25 years at UC Davis,” said geology professor and department chair Peter Schiffman. “When nearly 90 percent of our annual budget is in salaries, it doesn’t leave much left for anything else, like running field trips, renting microscopes for coursework, purchasing classroom supplies, etc.”

The physics department, like other programs throughout the university, has eliminated its non-tenured temporary lecturers in favor of increased faculty-taught class sizes and advanced students who need teaching experience.

“The department is avidly looking for ways to share staff responsibilities and services with other MPS departments,” department chair Warren Pickett said. “Dealing with the cuts will require other changes, and trying to find the best way forward is another drain on time and effort.”

In spite of concern for the impact of the operating budget cuts, the research budget will remain unaffected due in part to federal stimulus money. Grants awarded are however still subject to an overhead tax of as much as 50 percent to help fund the university, and since the larger grants require staff assistance to implement, the use of grants puts additional stress on the staff.

“It ought to be a higher priority for the state to return to funding it at sustainable levels,” Nachtergaele said. “Otherwise we will find out in a couple of decades what a terrible mistake we made.”

-Arnold Lau

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