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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

University feels pinch of pandemic-induced “budget adjustments”

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SOURCE: MUNICIPAL SECURITIES RULEMAKING BOARD GRAPHIC: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

University-wide “budget adjustments” have amounted to belt-tightening across the university, and the responsibility for implementing those adjustments is in the hands of deans, chairs and other divisional leaders.

The adjustments are a result of the pandemic’s “unexpected impact on total university revenues and expenses,” wrote Gabrielle Lacherza, associate director of Public Relations, in a Nov. 5 statement to The Hawk.

Lacherza’s statement was in response to requests for interviews with Cheryl McConnell, Ph.D., provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, and Karen Pellegrino, vice president of Enrollment Management.

“Some budget adjustments as a result are appropriate and necessary,” Lacherza wrote. “The university’s financial position remains strong and is poised to grow and strengthen.

Excellent student retention, incoming undergraduate enrollment and endowment growth are evidence as such.”

Steven Hammer, Ph.D., associate professor of communication studies, said these adjustments have been communicated by the university to faculty as “spending freezes,” and enrollment is a driving force behind the freezes.

“Covid was a stressful situation because a lot of lines of revenue sources weren’t available when Zoom was the primary mode of most people engaging in our institution, so I know that was a stressor, Hammer said. “But number one, the thing that I’ve heard for the last several years, is enrollment, enrollment, enrollment.”

Much of the recent focus regarding enrollment deficits has been on St. Joe’s class of 2024. According to data from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board detailing St. Joe’s Annual Operating data, the university received 843 deposits from first-year students in the class of 2024. In comparison, the university received 1,103 deposits from the class of 2023, 1,127 deposits from the class of 2022 and 1,075 deposits from the class of 2021.

“We’ve had a decline in enrollment at the undergraduate level,” confirmed Joseph DiAngelo ’70, Ed.D., dean of the Erivan K. Haub School of Business. “This year’s class [2025] was about on target. Last year [2024] we were off by 20%.”

The Hawk requested enrollment numbers from Pellegrino as well as information regarding the financial impact of a shortfall on targeted enrollment for a specific class year. In response, Lacherza declined to answer the questions, referring The Hawk to the university’s Nov. 5 statement. 

Amy Lipton, Ph.D., professor of finance and president of Faculty Senate, said lower enrollment numbers at any point will impact university spending at a tuition-driven institution like St. Joe’s.

“When we have a smaller number of students enrolling, that creates a smaller amount of revenue,” Lipton said. “That always has to be compared when we’re looking at trends of what’s available to be spent with the classes that are graduating.”

At a Sept. 8 meeting with chairs and program directors in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Interim CAS Dean Jay Carter, Ph.D., offered assurances that any budget cuts were not the result of the impending merger with the University of the Sciences as some had speculated, according to Aimée Knight, Ph.D., associate professor of communication studies, who attended the meeting. 

Lipton also made that point. 

“I wouldn’t say anything that’s happening now is necessarily a result of the merger or in anticipation of the merger,” Lipton said. 

At the Sept. 8 meeting, Knight said Carter mentioned that the college had been directed to cut more than $2 million from its budget.

In a Nov. 5 interview, Carter did not offer a specific number regarding budget cuts to the college. 

“We’re in a spending freeze,” Carter said. “There were cuts made to budgets, but I wouldn’t articulate them in terms of percentage or anything like that simply because we’re asking people not to spend money except where it’s essential. So the budget cuts, in many ways, don’t affect what departments are doing because of the spending freeze that we put in.” 

In a Nov. 11 interview with Angela McDonald, Ph.D., dean of the School of Health Studies and Education (SHSE), and Gail Benner, associate vice president of Marketing and Communications, McDonald said she was “not going to get into specifics” about budget amounts but would address “how we approach the budget decision making in the school.”

“As the dean, the departments are able to come to me with requests that they have on behalf of their faculty and staff and the programs, and then I’m able to look at those and make decisions based on what those requests are,” McDonald said. “I’m really glad that we’ve been able to continue to support the same things that we’ve been doing all along.”

In a Nov. 11 interview with The Hawk, DiAngelo said he had been given a percentage by the provost to cut but would not share that exact percentage.

One notable change as a result of the budget adjustments is the need for program directors and department heads to get permission to spend money. 

Before the pandemic, department chairs had the ability to allocate funding and resources within their department, said Thomas Brennan, S.J., Ph.D., chair and associate professor of English. 

That is no longer the case. 

Elizabeth Morgan, Ph.D., associate professor of music, theatre and film and co-director of the gender studies minor, said while money is still available for departments to utilize, the current financial circumstances seem to take away some of their spending freedom. 

“It’s tantamount to a cut in a way even if the money’s still there because you have to request access for everything,” Morgan said. “If we want to have a speaker or special event, we have to ask for the money rather than just use it.”

All requests for funds must be approved by the dean of the respective school, who manages individual budgets and decides whether or not the request is “essential,” Carter confirmed.

“I think the faculty and the administration both understand that we have limited resources, and we’re trying to make sure that we allocate them responsibly with the students at the center of what we want to support,” Carter said. “We just identify what are the most important things that we have to do, and what to do. And we’re, for the most part, able to do them.”

In CAS, students who request research or travel funds can still receive up to $500 in funding if a faculty committee approves the request, Carter said. McDonald also said SHSE has been able to support some requests by students to travel to conferences with faculty. 

For faculty, though, there is much more uncertainty when it comes to faculty development funds, which are used to support conference participation, publication and professional memberships and which many faculty find essential to their scholarly and professional work. 

As of Nov. 15, the CAS website stated that full-time CAS faculty are eligible for up to $1,200 per fiscal year for conference travel, $1,000 for support of scholarly publication and $200 for professional members. 

But those amounts no longer seem to be valid for all full-time faculty. 

“Faculty development is not appreciably different than in years past, and I am typically able to fund appropriate requests of up to $1,500,” Carter said. “For mid-career faculty, those tenured but not fully promoted, I am able to support up to $1,000 typically. For full professors, less is available, but everyone is able to get some support. I believe that prioritizing junior faculty is the fairest way to meet our budget goals and still support faculty scholarship.”

Carter acknowledged that “funding for senior faculty has been reduced substantially,” but he added that faculty may be “holding off on requests because of the need to hold down expenses, and I appreciate their efforts in this.”

Morgan said she is supportive of the decision to prioritize pre-tenure faculty in their professional development. However, that still poses challenges to her as a tenured faculty member. 

“It shouldn’t be falling on the individual,” Morgan said. “They told us that kind of support isn’t really going to be available except maybe for people who are pre-tenure, which doesn’t include me. So I’ve been less likely to do professional development activities because it’s expensive.”

There is no specific information about faculty development funds on the Haub School of Business website or the School of Health Studies and Education website. 

But Chan Y. Yoo, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of marketing, said that at a September meeting with business faculty, DiAngelo announced there would be no support for research trips or conference trips, and that is where Haub faculty are feeling the biggest impact. 

“[The Dean] suggested we have to brace ourselves and reduce any unnecessary [spending] during the semester,” Yoo said.

Brennan said he recognizes the pressure that deans like Carter are under as a result of the university’s budget adjustments.

“I have complete confidence in Dr. Carter,” Brennan said. “Dr. Carter is trying to do the best he can with some very challenging circumstances.”

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