Faculty Senate meeting outlines 1999 fiscal plan

Michelle Norton

Staff Writer

Wednesday's Faculty Senate meeting raised more questions than it answered during the presentation of the fiscal year 1999 academic budget.

Compiled by the Senate Budget Facilities Committee, the fiscal year budget is, for the first time, a collaborative effort of each of the four UH-System universities.

Divided into sections by current funds, revenues, expenditures, endowment funds and investments in the physical plant, the fall budget report provides historical reference points for past, present and future resources and expenditures.

Vice Chancellor/ Vice President for Administration and Finance Randy Harris presented the academic budget as background to administrative expectations.

"We have established a new system for the fiscal year budget," Harris explained. "While it may leave some questions unanswered, it is a starting point from which we can build a strong future."

While the FY 1999 budget is up 3.06 percent from last year's budget of $450.9 million, many Faculty Senate members argue that they are experiencing the results of what they believe to be a 25-percent budget cut.

Maria Gonzalez, an associate professor of English, claimed that she had to reduce the number of teaching aides she could hire this year.

"The instructional budget is not where it is supposed to be, leaving my department in the midst of an institutional crisis," she said.

But officials say the new funding is not out of line. Edward Sheridan, provost and senior vice chancellor/ senior vice president for Academic Affairs, maintained that each college received the same amount of funds as last year.

"Departments believe that their funds have been cut because they do not have the same purchasing power this year as they did last year," Sheridan said.

Gonzalez, projecting that she will have to cut several sections advertised in the course schedule, further argued that the university should base-fund core curriculum.

"Historically, the (English) department has had to come back to the university to get funding for core curriculum to prevent course losses," she said. "By funding core curriculum, first-course losses would be eliminated."

Sheridan argued, however, that classes considered to be core curriculum cannot be given priority over other classes. "Department chairs are encouraged to generate as many course sections as they can within their budget," he said. "Funding one course over another just because it is core would be unfair."

Gonzales' suggestion that reserved funds be used to pay for core classes was also dismissed by Sheridan, who contended that those funds are to be used only if tuition does not generate enough money, a possibility which projections have already deemed unlikely.

Following a decrease in appropriations that began in 1988, fees have steadily increased to make up for the loss in the budget. For FY '99, they are projected to increase 5.12 percent over last year's figures.

As a result, students will feel the increase when paying their fee bills. Designated Tuition, for example - the former General Use Fee - is slated to increase to $31, up $1 from last year.

Perhaps the largest portion of funding, however, will come from increases in various specific student fees. In order to use fee-funded campus services, students may have to pay $5 per semester-credit-hour for the Technology Fee, $6 for the Cougar OneCard - which is normally free - and $106 in Student Service Fees.

In the midst of increasing fees to enlarge the budget, many faculty members are arguing that the administration is improperly distributing funds.

History professor Karl Ittman contended that the UH classrooms are in poor condition and said money should be allocated for structural improvements.

"We need to change our learning environment," he said. "Many classrooms (are) beyond such repair that they would disgrace even the most underfunded high school."

Harris said the university can by no means fulfill all the requests for building improvement that have been filed by various colleges.

"Requests by each of the colleges for structural improvements are exceeding capital by $50 to $70 million dollars a year," Harris said.

Hoping to resolve issues like these, the SBFC has named four budget priorities: increasing legislative funding for the UH System, developing collaborative academic initiatives, developing administrative systems and enhancing public accountability.

The budget is awaiting final approval by the Board of Regents. A budget policy meeting will take place in November when the SBFC will meet to begin the next round of budgetary allocations.

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