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Saturday, October 23, 2021

UC Davis administrators talk budget cutting strategies

UC Davis administrators are in the midst of planning ways to cope with the proposed budget cuts over the course of the next few months without impacting student learning.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal could cause a $100 million, or 17 percent, shortfall for UC Davis next year, according to a statement from Chancellor Linda Katehi. This cut would follow the $222 million, or 38 percent, shortfall that the school has faced over the past three years.

A 17 percent decrease in state funding would have widespread effects all over campus.

“The magnitude of cuts is so large,” said Kelly Ratliff, associate vice chancellor of Budget and Institutional Analysis. “So virtually any aspect of the campus would need to be considered [to lose funding]. It’s too soon to say, but it’s likely that we won’t have anything that’s completely protected.”

Ratliff said that there are two ways to deal with such a substantial budget cut, if it were to happen: reduce costs and increase revenues.

One way the university can generate new revenue is through philanthropy, said Fred Wood, vice chancellor of Student Affairs. Administrators will also be looking for ways to bring in additional contracts and grants, as well as other opportunities to make up for a shortfall.

Wood noted that the main priority of staff and faculty is to minimize the impact on students and keep student services intact. This has been done in the past by reducing costs through behind-the-scene administrative changes.

“We first see if there’s any overheard administrative cost that we can reduce,” Wood said. “Not the person that interacts directly with a student, but maybe someone in the background you don’t see… Even though a unit’s name may be removed or merged with another unit, we still maintain that service and the students don’t see the changes.”

Another means to help ease a budget cut would be the new voluntary separation program for UC Davis, approved by the UC Office of the President. Under the program, staff employees are given the opportunity to resign and receive a severance package based on the length of their career in exchange, Wood said. The university will not fill the position for 18 months, saving the cost of the salary.

In the short term, money is spent on the severance package, but a greater amount of money is saved through the freed salary, Wood said. This program can help bridge the shortfall by having fewer salaries to pay at the university.

In a statement, UC President Mark Yudof said that the budget cuts would reduce the state’s annual per student contribution to $7,210, compared to the $7,930 to be paid by students and their families. Still, the amount of financial aid distributed would not be reduced by the proposed cuts, Ratliff said.

“At present, the university has a policy of returning a certain amount of fees to financial aid and that hasn’t changed,” she said. “And in the governor’s proposal, he proposes an increase in Cal grants that would cover the fee increases.”

Wood also noted that the Federal Pell Grant became available over the summer for the first time and that the financial aid office gave out more financial aid last summer than ever before.

In December, Katehi appointed a budget task force to help combat funding issues that includes faculty, students and staff, Ratliff said. The student roles consist of the president of ASUCD, the chair of the Graduate Student Association and the editor-in-chief of The California Aggie. The first meeting will take place at the end of the month.

“The campus is continuing to make a priority by working with all the various groups on campus,” she said. “This new budget task force will help ensure that we’re getting a balanced perspective from students, faculty and staff.”

ASUCD’s Lobby Corps, the student-run lobbying force on campus, is already tackling the budget issue by making frequent trips to the state capital. Aaron Giampietro, director of Lobby Corps and senior communication and Spanish double major, said that he hopes to ensure accountability and transparency from the state legislators.

“We don’t ask for a handout or to wipe the cuts off of legislation,” Giampietro said. “We want to see what’s going on with the money, and we want to see accountability in what’s spent – that [the funds are] used very wisely.”

Lobby Corps plans to reach out to key legislators three to four times a week during Lobby Month in April.

Despite the potential impact of a future budget cut, Wood remains confident in the quality and integrity of UC Davis after a substantial funding loss.

“This is a very difficult time but I have absolute confidence in this institution and the people we have here, that the staff and faculty will come together and do this in the best possible way for the students,” he said.

MARTHA GEORGIS can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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