A worst-case scenario could reduce state funding to Georgia Southern University by 30 percent, which GSU president Dr. Brooks Keel said “will have a major impact on Georgia Southern and would require significant operational changes at our university.”
Keel gave a broad outline of proposals last week to cut $25.7 million out of the approximately $88 million in funding Georgia Southern receives from the state. Late last week, state legislators told University System Chancellor Erroll Davis to come up with a plan to cut $565 million from the system’s budget for the state’s 35 colleges and universities. Gov. Sonny Perdue had originally proposed a $265 million reduction, but legislators said that wasn’t enough.
Beginning his third month as Georgia Southern’s president, Keel was somber, but positive. He acknowledged the potential effects of such drastic reductions and the challenges it would create.
“We will protect the academic core of our university first and foremost,” Keel said. “But, if faced with the magnitude of cuts currently being proposed, the Georgia Southern we all know and love today will look dramatically different tomorrow.
“I fear the close knit interaction between students and faculty will suffer greatly. The large campus, small college feel will be tough, if not impossible, to maintain.”
The proposed cuts include the elimination of 63 full-time temporary faculty positions and 54 part-time faculty positions. Also, 67 staff positions would either not be filled or replaced if someone retires.
“Students have always been the most important thing to Georgia Southern, and even in the face of potentially devastating cuts, we will do everything we can to ensure that our students continue to receive the high quality education they have come to expect.”
Keel said the university would not make across-the-board cuts to every department or program. He said some of the separate colleges within the university may be rolled into larger colleges. He also said some programs with low enrollment could be eliminated.
“We looked at everything and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some sacrifice everywhere,” Keel said.
In addition to the ones mentioned above, the proposed cuts include:
• Six furlough days for staff
• Cutting the state subsidies for such educational outreach programs as Continuing Education, Museum, Wildlife Center, PAC, Coastal Georgia Center, Dublin facility.
• Reducing athletic department budget by $1 million
• Declaring financial exigency, which means tenured faculty members could have their contracts terminated.
Other universities around the state are submitting their reduction proposals and the cuts are just as extreme. The University of Georgia must cut its state funding by $104 million.
Chancellor Davis expressed his displeasure to legislators at a hearing last week.
“You can’t give top-flight quality, accept everyone you want to be educated, put them all in small classrooms and offer all the majors that people demand while we’re cutting — not millions, not tens of millions — but hundreds of millions out of the system,” Davis said.
Keel said he has no doubt the system will look at possibly increasing tuition for students. Georgia has one of the lowest tuition rates of public universities in the nation, with an average tuition cost of $5,400 per year. Keel said the national average is $7,000.
Keel also said a cap on enrollment along with increasing standards to control growth would be considered.
Keel also emphasized that no cuts have been finalized and probably won’t be until sometime in April. He urged everyone in the Bulloch County community and south Georgia to let their legislators know how they feel about such drastic measures.
“While we have been asked to prepare for the worst, it is by no means a done deal,” he said. “Contact your state representatives and senators and let them know you do not support additional cuts to higher education or Georgia Southern University.
“Georgia Southern is the largest employer in Bulloch County and the region. “Make no mistake, such harsh actions will hurt all of south Georgia.”
Keel said one of his primary goals throughout the process is to keep students, parents, faculty, staff and the community informed about what is happening with the budget."
The university has set up a Web site dedicated to the budget crisis — www.georgiasouthern.edu/budget.
“Call me crazy, but I’m still optimistic,” Keel said. “One thing we can’t do is dwell all the time on the negative. We will come out of this in the next couple of years and we have to be ready. We must also look forward as we make the very difficult decisions during the coming month.”