University News

U. deficit could constrain budget planning

The University will attempt to eliminate the deficit within the next two or three years

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 8, 2013

The University’s current $4.3 million deficit remains a concern as administrators plan the next fiscal year’s operating budget, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 at an open forum hosted Thursday by the University Resources Committee.

The University ended the last fiscal year with a deficit of $5.5 million. Though the current deficit is lower than that sum, “We have to work on dropping this deficit down,” said Schlissel, who chairs the URC.

The University operates under a deficit by drawing on reserve funds, he said. Schlissel added that the Corporation, which approves the budget each February, said at its October meeting the deficit is a problem that must be addressed in plans for next year’s budget.

“We hope to bring the deficit to zero in two or three years,” Schlissel said. But it is hard to predict how exactly budgets will play out several years in advance, he added, and that unpredictability underscores a need for cautious planning.

Administrators did not indicate whether tuition will rise next academic year, though Schlissel said any necessary increase in tuition will be accompanied by a comparable increase in financial aid.

“We are undergraduate tuition-dependent,” said Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration. “A large part of the burden falls on your families and you. We are more sensitive to that.”

Tuition hikes have been part of the annual budget for the past four years, though those budgets have also increased funds allocated for financial aid.

After explaining Brown’s yearly revenue and operating budget, Schlissel opened the floor to solicit feedback on budgetary priorities.

Professor of Chemistry Gerald Diebold said the facilities in his department are “falling apart,” citing falling plaster and collapsing cabinets among other issues and displaying photos for Schlissel and forum attendees.

“The only people who can make these (improvements) happen are you,” he said.

Diebold later asked whether the University should focus on “striving for excellence” with its current population and facilities rather than growth.

Current goals outlined in President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan include expanding facilities downtown and increasing both the student and faculty populations.

“The University would die” if it did not expand, Schlissel said, adding that a place of higher learning like Brown must prioritize bringing in new ideas to “enrich the community.”

But Schlissel added, “If we could eliminate academic tenure, we wouldn’t have to grow,” because the University could replenish the faculty with new hires to generate fresh ideas.

“This isn’t an enriching place to be a faculty member,” Diebold told The Herald.

Students at the forum voiced questions about how the budget deficit will affect financial aid.

Schlissel said long-term financial aid is heavily influenced by earmarked donations to the University endowment. Roughly 30 percent of financial aid comes out of the University’s endowment, so making these donations is important to ensure the University can maintain its need-blind admission policy, he said.

Currently, the need-blind policy applies to domestic first-year applicants.

Paxson’s plan mentions universal need-blind admission as a long-term goal, though it does not place a timetable on implementing such a policy.

One male undergraduate student asked how Brown’s 250th anniversary celebration would affect the budget deficit.

Schlissel said the anniversary events are “not being paid out of the budget.” Instead, the University will use the anniversary as a major fundraising opportunity.

John Mulligan GS, secretary of the Graduate Student Council, said many graduate students, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, have to pay “substantial out-of-pocket expenses” for research and travel.

“If it’s for professional purposes, you shouldn’t have to pay out-of-pocket,” Schlissel responded. He added that more competitive graduate stipends are one of the priorities for the University going forward.

Kevin Carty ’15, a general body member of the Undergraduate Council of Students and a sexual assault peer advisor, said a position that administrators referred to as a “men’s health coordinator” should be prioritized in next year’s budget.

Carty, a former Herald opinions columnist, said the coordinator would work toward combating issues he views as perpetuated by many male social groups on campus, including binge drinking and sexual assault.

The position, which was conceived after conversations with the Greek Council and other groups, has been overlooked for a couple of years, Carty told The Herald.