CLA halts spending to erase shortfall

Facing a “substantial deficit,” the College of Liberal Arts recently alerted its senior staff members of a college-wide spending freeze that halts travel expenses, leaves unfilled faculty and assistant positions empty and possibly reorganizes student-worker

Facing a “substantial deficit,” the College of Liberal Arts recently alerted its senior staff members of a college-wide spending freeze that halts travel expenses, leaves unfilled faculty and assistant positions empty and possibly reorganizes student-worker staffing patterns in an attempt to balance its budget by June 30.

The announcement, sent Jan. 17 from the Office of the Dean to department chairs and program directors, among others, said the college’s budget status report for the period ending Dec. 31, 2005, projected that the “college is facing a substantial deficit even with the actions that were previously taken to avoid one.”

A copy of the memo obtained by The Temple News outlines a six-point plan to trim spending and to comply with the university’s budget policies and procedures, which require deans to ensure the budget of their college is balanced.

Along with freezing travel expenses in all of the college’s 16 departments, purchases “other than those essential for instruction and department operations, must cease for the remainder of the fiscal year.” In addition, work requests “other than those required for safety issues or required for external certifications, will not be authorized.”

Departments using student-workers were told to review student staffing patterns by Jan. 23 to “determine if reductions in hours or the number of students employed is possible,” while all departments were instructed to leave vacant staff and assistant positions open, according to the document.

Acting Dean Philip Alperson, who has led CLA since August 2005, said the college’s budget numbers are constantly changing as it reacts to “sets of pressures that come in from all directions,” including lower-than-expected enrollment or higher-than-expected expenses.

“This is nothing out of the ordinary to make adjustments to the budget,” Alperson said, adding that he hopes CLA will be able to relax some of the freeze before June.

Alperson repeatedly declined to comment on the causes or effects of the freeze, saying that it “doesn’t make sense to go into” the details of CLA’s budget because it is so large and complex. Alperson also declined requests for an approximation of the shortfall.

The university’s financial statement for the last fiscal year shows that CLA’s administrative budget surpassed $10 million.

Reaction to the freeze among department chairs was mixed. While some dismissed the freeze as negligible or declined to comment on its effects, others argued that it choked off already limited funds, stifling research and travel opportunities for professors who are trying to compete with other scholars on a national and international level.

Istvan Varkonyi, chair of the department of French, German, Italian and Slavic languages, said 14 professors in his department this year had access to $3,600 in travel money. About half of that amount was spent in the fall for a few trips – costs can range from $500 to $1000 for a single conference, Varkonyi said – and the rest has been frozen. Trying to spread the initial travel allocation among eligible staff members was “already a joke,” Varkonyi said, so adjusting to the freeze “really puts tremendous strains on everyone, tremendous strains.”

Susan Wells, chair of the English department, said the freeze has stopped her department’s plans this semester for a lecture series and has temporarily halted renovations. She agreed that CLA’s shortfall also will make it harder for faculty to build a national reputation. But, she said, CLA’s finances have been well-managed, so the freeze is “not the end of the world.”

Some department chairs and other faculty members have pointed to CLA’s aggressive hiring campaign under former Dean Susan Herbst as a major cause for the freeze. During her two years as head of the college, Herbst was responsible for recruiting more than 45 new tenure-track faculty members in an attempt to boost the college’s research capacity and reputation.

Alperson dismissed the claim, saying “people are manufacturing possible causes when they don’t have access to the budget.”

Herbst said in a telephone interview from the State University of New York at Albany that CLA “used the monies that we had available to build a faculty” while still making competitive offers to new hires. Herbst, who is the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at SUNY Albany, said she constantly worked with central administration to stay within budget, adding that she did not have to institute a freeze during her time here.

“It’s not a wealthy institution,” Herbst said of Temple, though she said that the university has “tremendous” potential for fundraising. “There’s enough money to do a lot, but we have to, more than other institutions, be very careful to constantly be making budget with our priorities. Phil is right too that there are a lot of moving parts. And keeping them all in balance is very tough.”

Brandon Lausch can be reached at

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