Doomsday scenarios are being discussed in whispers at Youngstown State University as the Ohio General Assembly works on the biennium budget. If the cuts in higher education spending made by the House of Representatives aren't restored in the Senate or in conference committee, YSU would suffer a crippling financial blow.
College deans have been meeting with department chairs to warn them of things to come should state funding for the university fail to reach this year's level.
And while the discussions have been of a general nature -- YSU President David Sweet and his counterparts around the state are hoping the Republican controlled General Assembly comes to its senses -- the potential shortfall in YSU's budget has real numbers attached to it.
At the moment, university officials are talking about a $5.5 million deficit in the 2003-04 operating budget, but there's recognition that it could hit $8 million.
In a memo to the university community dated April 14, Sweet listed four priority considerations that are guiding the administration's budget efforts: Maintain classroom instruction; maintain enrollment and retention services; maintain campus safety and security; avoid layoffs.
"It has been a difficult and challenging process with sacrifices made in nearly every area," the president wrote. "Thus far, we have achieved the necessary amount of budget reductions without any projected layoffs. However, I want to caution that any further increase in state cuts and/or changes in higher education funding formulas could force YSU to re-evaluate workforce reductions."
Sweet said he had briefed the chairman of the board of trustees and the chairman of the board's finance and facilities committee. "I also met with the leadership of the YSU collective bargaining units to inform them of these developments," the president added.
Sweet will present details of the impending fiscal crisis during a Campus Conversation to be scheduled shortly.
At that session, the prospect of an $8 million deficit may well be addressed. Department chairs have been told that they would have to cut their operating budgets by 15 percent to 20 percent and that budgets for specialized programs -- women's studies, labor studies and the like -- would be slashed or zeroed out.
There would also be a significant reduction in the budget for limited service faculty, which means that full-time faculty would have to teach full loads -- 12 hours. Special projects being worked on by faculty would have to be set aside.
And, nonunion employees are hearing rumblings that they may have to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.
Currently, there is no health insurance copayment requirement. Indeed, the three-year contracts entered into last year with the faculty and classified employees do not contain a copayment provision.
And that raises a question Sweet may want to answer during the Campus Conversation: "When you met with the leadership of the collective bargaining units to inform them of the budget realities, did you broach the subject of concessions and givebacks? If so, what was the reaction of the union leaders? If not, why not?
"More to the point, did you offer to give back your pay raise and other compensation increases granted by the trustees last year, and did you offer to have your top administrators also give up their exorbitant pay increases? If not, why not?"
Another question Sweet may want to address has to do with his contention that sacrifices have been made. Who has made the sacrifices? (Certainly not the president and his top administrators, or the faculty or the classified employees. They're clinging tight to their fattened wallets. Negotiations with the unions representing the police and professional staff have not been concluded.)
But here's the objective answer to that question: The major sacrifice has been made by the students, who were hit with a 9.5 percent tuition increase last summer. Over the past five years, YSU students have had to bear a 40 percent increase in tuition.
It's time YSU trustees, who are appointed by the governor and are supposed to serve as the watchdogs of the public dollars, stepped forward and demanded that all university employees give up their pay raises and make other concessions in return for keeping their jobs.
The university community should be aware that higher education in Ohio is under the Legislature's microscope.