The 46th legislature of the Student Government Association (SGA) convened Monday evening to hear Robin Forman, Dean of the College, present on the College’s recent decision to phase out certain undergraduate and graduate programs. After Forman’s presentation, legislators and spectators had the opportunity to ask questions.
Forman, who assured students that he was “not trying to hide anything,” had given the same PowerPoint slideshow to faculty last Wednesday when he first announced these plans.
During the presentation, Emory’s financials played an important part in Forman’s discussion with students. Some were looking for more specifics than what Forman provided.
“Do you have a pie chart or anything?” asked one student who demanded to know exactly where Emory’s funds are allocated.
Forman’s response elaborated that Emory’s operative budget, 80% of which is funded by student tuition, goes to three main areas: financial aid, salaries to faculty and staff and allocative costs, which are all the places that cannot sustain themselves on their own revenue like campus life, the library and the communication office. The University, he said, has been running deficits since the financial collapse in 2008, specifically a deficit of $8.5 million in the fiscal year 2011 and a deficit of $9 million in the fiscal year 2012, excluding off-budget expenses like temporary faculty and start-up costs, which account for about $2 million.
In light of the Central Administration clearing the university’s remaining debt from the 2012 fiscal year, Forman said that the University is predicted to break even for the fiscal year of 2013.
Forman was adamant in emphasizing that the reallocation of funds is not about cutting costs.
Students present were reluctant to believe him, especially after learning that numerous faculty positions would no longer exist as a result of the plan. Forman was quick to defend the decision, explaining that every faculty member has at least two years advanced notice for the changes.
Forman said that when he refers to a “better future” or Emory’s “academic eminence,” he means a commitment to enhance what Emory students and faculty consider to be core departments of the liberal arts.
The new programs that will receive funds are the study of contemporary China, digital studies and new media across the arts and sciences, neuroscience, undergraduate sciences in general and interdisciplinary studies. Forman said the Faculty Financial Advisory Committee was involved in making a number of these decisions, which again stirred student emotions.
One audience member pointed out that none of the professors on the committee were in departments from which funds were reallocated. Forman reiterated that these decisions were made to enhance programs which the students and faculty have deemed absolutely essential.
As Forman finished his formal presentation, Speaker of the Legislature and College senior Milan Udawatta reminded the spectators that this was not in fact a town hall and that he would “call on those who wish to ask a question, but elected officials have priority.”
Senior representative Brad Clement asked how much money was freed up for reallocation.
Forman clarified that no funds have been reallocated yet, but by the end of the process, there will be $4.5 million annually from the operating budget toward the new initiatives.
Students questioned the elimination of educational studies, journalism and visual arts in the undergraduate program and Spanish, Portuguese and economics in the graduate program.
Senior representative Malika Begum asked whether these suspensions were temporary.
Forman seemed optimistic and resolute and said that when these departments are reopened in the future, they will not be the same programs that were closed but something that will improve Emory’s academic excellence.
Advocates of the economics department pushed for a reversal of the decision to remove the graduate economics program.
Forman said that a reason the College is phasing out graduate economics is because there is such an overwhelming demand for economics at the undergraduate level.
The College does not have the resources to hire as many economics professors.
Forman made it clear that he was just as disappointed at the loss of these programs as the students and faculty were.
“Everything we do has a passionate constituency; this is not about easy decisions,” he said.
Students asked whether other universities are facing these same decisions. Forman cited Harvard, Yale and Duke as examples of schools that had to make budget cuts.
Students were also angry about the alleged lack of communication with faculty about these decisions.
Forman again defended the process, saying that he has been meeting with chairs and directors of departments since February about these issues.
Many hands were still raised when Udawatta ended the question-answer session. Having been dominated by Forman’s presentation, the meeting ended with a quick update on the events of the SGA retreat and an announcement from the Campus Services Committee. SGA will also soon discuss an increase in student activity fees.
Gandhi ended the meeting by asking SGA members to send in questions from students about the budget cuts in preparation for a potential town hall meeting with Forman.
In addition, SGA representatives discussed the possibility of holding a town hall meeting in the near future to address student questions about the changes.
By Rupsha Basu