October 24, 2023
I would like to thank the Faculty Senate for inviting me to speak at the Faculty Forum last week. I want to update the campus on that productive conversation and provide additional information.
It is clear that some of you have questions about the state of UNCG’s budget and the need for academic portfolio review, which appear to be predicated on conclusions made in a widely disseminated AAUP budget report produced by Howard Bunsis. It should be noted that we were not asked to provide information or to respond to questions at any point. We would have welcomed this opportunity, as the analysis is rife with major and minor inaccuracies and misinformation. Bunsis has been hired by AAUP groups around the country, producing very similar reports.
In fact, after reviewing the professor’s reports on thirteen universities, leaders from the University of Buffalo concluded: “In developing a response to Professor Bunsis’ report, UB reviewed thirteen different financial analyses prepared by Professor Bunsis at other universities. Every financial analysis reviewed produced almost identical results.” They added, “The similarity of the financial analyses calls into question the objectivity of the analysis.” In addition, in comparing the 2014 report Bunsis provided to UNCG AAUP and the report from October 11 of this year, we noted the similarities. While there is plenty of room for debate and discussion about our path forward, nothing is served by this misdirection.
Bunsis’ report’s primary conclusions – around enrollment and the new funding model, cash reserves and revenues, athletics, and administrative growth – ignore the reality that our revenue is heavily dependent on enrollment. No responsible analysis of our finances would conclude that we can lose 2,500 – students a number equivalent to an entire first-year cohort – over four years and not have to consider substantial changes.
We invite you to visit https://innovation.uncg.edu/latest-information/, which includes accurate budget information responding to the primary conclusions in the AAUP report. University financial operations are complex, but our challenge boils down to this: we are bringing in fewer of the kinds of dollars we can use for academic programs. In particular:
- Net tuition and fees revenue in fiscal year 2020 was $114,749,020. In fiscal year 2023, that number was $92,254,915, a decline of $22,494,105 (19.6%).
- While it is also true that state appropriations rose over that same period by $7,740,082, this increase was due primarily to legislative salary increases for faculty and staff (essentially a pass through) and earmarks for special and capital projects (e.g., Jackson Library, Chiller Plant, other repairs and renovations). These funds cannot be redirected to academic programs.
- We are not in a “rainy day” situation. Our enrollment declines are not temporary. If we attempt to cover deficits with reserves without taking additional action, we will soon burn through our reserves, leaving us with ongoing deficits and no way to meet unexpected expenses. We will be worse off in the medium and long terms, not better.
- We maintain a positive bond rating precisely because we have been, and are, managing our finances responsibly by implementing changes and necessary improvements.
In addition to the budget information, we have provided written responses to Senate Chair Tami Draves on all the submitted questions that we did not have time to address at the Faculty Senate Forum.
In light of the significant “headwinds” (you’ve heard me discuss them – e.g., enrollment/demographic changes, funding model, the public perception of higher education) we are facing, it would be irresponsible to do nothing. We have implemented and continue to implement operational and administrative efficiencies.
Given that 71% of our budget is spent on academic affairs, we must review our academic portfolio. Not only that, but it is also a best practice and UNCG has not engaged in a comprehensive review in well over 15 years. This review will ask whether we have the right set of programs given our mission, resources, and areas of current and potential institutional strength and growth. I expect that we will learn from the review that we need to invest in some of our programs. I also expect that the review will identify programs that can be consolidated or discontinued. I trust your deans will take stock of their programs and make recommendations about what their colleges and schools should look like going forward. University leadership will take the deans’ recommendations and do the same for the institution as a whole.
Accreditation does not, as some have suggested, do this work for us. Accreditation compares us to a set of standards and asks whether we meet them. Meeting a set of externally crafted standards, however, does not constitute a strategy that aligns with our values and mission. We need to do the hard work together of defining who we are and what we need to be for our students. Academic portfolio review allows us to align resources with our strategy. Our strategy is to invest in programs that are distinctive (i.e., student demand, academic reputation, community engagement, creative and scholarly activity, extramural funding, etc.). We all share a responsibility as stewards of the public resources we manage to do what is in the best interest of all our stakeholders, as well as the institution.
We understand that this work is hard and that the exact outcomes at present are uncertain. The changes we are discussing are not abstract; they may affect your lives and your careers. Your concerns are heard, your dedication is seen. My commitment to you is this: we will proceed with transparency. But we must proceed and respond to the changes on our campus and in the world around us. And we need to do so with calm, honest, and wise engagement and management to ensure a comprehensive analysis of who we are and where we need to go. And it is comprehensive. Academic portfolio review isn’t just about responding to a spreadsheet. It is about securing a future for a place that we all love, a place that has shaped the minds and futures of countless students. Hard decisions will be made and these decisions will never be made lightly or without the utmost respect for the people who make this university what it is.
I ask that you continue to engage in the academic portfolio review process and support our students as you always do. Let’s continue to work together to ensure we don’t disrupt our current students’ learning and progress and avoid any recruitment harm to your academic programs.
Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr.