Students, faculty and staff members expressed their distaste with the lack of transparency in regards to budgetary decisions after 15 campus positions were eliminated or reduced to part-time in the fall semester.
After the backlash ensued, President Jay Simmons, in collaboration with faculty, cabinet and staff members, implemented the new All-Campus Budget Committee to advise on future budget decisions.
The committee, chaired by professor Allison Wolf, began their work late in the fall after consistent feedback from faculty members, including more than 20 tenured professors who submitted a letter to Simmons in regards to the process used to determine the budget cuts which included the employee reductions.
Wolf explained in an interview with The Simpsonian the main goals determined by the committee consisted of greater transparency in budget decisions, proactivity over reactivity and adherence to the college’s five year strategic plan in accordance with future budgetary decisions.
“The mission statement of the college and the strategic plan are the guiding principles of how we set budget priorities,” Wolf said. “It’s not just ‘we need to make the budget work.’ We need to make the budget work in ways that are going to keep Simpson College getting better and better and better.”
Wolf also commented about the background of budget decisions, including for the upcoming fiscal year 2016 budget proposals. The focus of the committee has been set on data as a driver for budget decisions as opposed to “what if” scenarios.
In place of those scrambling scenarios, this committee will be proposing three different budget proposals based on varying levels of enrollment in order to avoid similar budget cuts as those experienced in the last year.
The committee includes members of the Simpson community from all levels ranging between Board of Trustees members to students. With this diverse composition, the committee members can bring their own differentiating perspectives to budget decisions. But, there are more steps to be taken to work on inclusivity and transparency.
First off is attendance at open meetings of the committee to portray concerns about budget decisions.
“We’ve already had a set of open meetings that we invited everyone to attend and we’re about to, before spring break, have more open meetings where we invite everyone in the community to attend and participate in,” Wolf said.
The reality of this new situation is that it’s a stark change from how budgetary decisions have been made in the past.
Professor Wolf has been at Simpson long enough to see the differences this committee is presenting to the college.
“This is my tenth year and I can’t remember when we’ve ever been asked to consult about the budget and give our opinions to people who are then going to make recommendations about that budget.”
The most important thing Wolf can stress on behalf of the budget committee is student involvement, including involvement to increase the college’s endowment.
“Get out there and encourage alumni to give, help out in fundraising and the advancement office,” she said. “The bottom line is, it’s a tuition-driven school and you can’t maintain programs if you don’t raise the tuition.”
And so, in accordance with that, there will be an increase in tuition with the 2016 fiscal year budget proposals. While students may wonder at why tuition raises are necessary, the budget calls for it.
“Students ask ‘why do we raise tuition?’ And the answer is, because our costs go up, the literal utility bills go up,” Wolf said. “People talk a lot about tuition freezing and not getting any more services, but what happens is that we cannot even maintain services because our costs are never frozen.”
While the college and its programs are continuous and thriving, the enrollment has been gradually decreasing. With the same costs, fewer students and an insufficient endowment, tuition freezing is not a plausible option in Simpson’s near future.
While the committee continues to work on budget recommendations, there will be open meetings for the entire Simpson community to voice concerns and their own recommendations throughout this semester. One set of meetings will take place before spring break and another in the second half of the semester.
If anyone has budgetary ideas or concerns the committee can bring to Simmons and the cabinet, these meetings are the prime opportunity to voice those opinions. After all, the committee and cabinet are working towards goals to sustain Simpson for its past, present and future students.
“We want this college to be sustainable and always moving forward and always bettering the academic experience of the students,” Wolf said.