Tri-Cities to delay spending cuts on campus

First reduction admin spending, Student Affairs next

CODY COTTIER, Evergreen reporter

WSU Tri-Cities has begun to reduce its spending in accordance with the university’s 2.5 percent budget cuts, but administrators are waiting for the incoming chancellor to arrive before making recommendations to WSU President Kirk Schulz.

Because of the transition in leadership, the campus is “in a little bit of an interesting situation,” said Jeffrey Dennison, director of marketing and communications for WSU Tri-Cities. Once Chancellor Sandra Haynes takes over on March 1, they expect to present final suggestions to Schulz in mid- to late-March, nearly half a year after he announced the plan to curb WSU’s deficit spending.

“We’re trying to prepare to help the chancellor make good decisions by having things laid out for her,” Dennison said.

Rather than sweeping cuts, the campus’ budget plan targets three categories, with the goal of slashing $500,000. The greatest cuts will come from administrative spending, the next greatest from student affairs and research and least from academic affairs.

Because academic affairs is the core mission of WSU Tri-Cities, Dennison said, they want to preserve as much of its operations as possible. However, he said one idea has been to eliminate classes with low enrollment.

“That makes sense, we do that all the time,” he said. “But I think there will be closer scrutiny with those things.”

Similar to Pullman’s deans, the vice chancellors at Tri-Cities are working with their directors, faculty and staff to prioritize cuts within their units.

Martin Klotz, vice chancellor for academic affairs, noted that although WSU Tri-Cities plans to cut least from academics, his budget is the campus’ largest and therefore will still face reductions.

“Cutting expenditures in an enterprise that is all about people is very difficult,” Klotz wrote in an email. “Every reallocation or reduction of resources will affect people, who are individual human beings who contribute to the intellectual culture of a university campus.”

Klotz said it is important to avoid cutting anything that could interfere with future “potentially positive outcomes.” They have to find a balance between “dreaming big” and living within their means.

Peter Smith, senior director of finance and administration, explained that beyond reducing costs, they must also invest strategically. For Tri-Cities, the area with the highest growth is the STEM fields, so improvement there will draw more students, and in turn more revenue.

Though they will not be able to expand STEM programs as quickly because of reduced spending, Smith said it will likely be a top priority.

Smith, who is acting as vice chancellor for finance and administration, said he is attempting to distribute responsibilities more efficiently. For example, he said, when they lost a grant specialist, he restructured the department to absorb the position. This alone saves roughly $60,000, he said.

Like the rest of the university system, Tri-Cities will hold positions open as employees retire or leave their jobs, though Dennison said no one has been laid off or fired.

In the interim before Haynes arrives, he said, the campus is consolidating some services. The Copy & Mail Center has been absorbed into Information Technology, and one employee now manages travel and reimbursement, a task that used to belong to two people. Dennison said he expects further consolidation.

“The departments have been asked to restrain their spending immediately,” he said. “We know that this is coming … we’re going to have to do it anyway.”

Two areas that will not be reduced are departments funded by grants and student accounts funded through student fees.

Smith declined to specify any potential recommendations to Haynes, as they are still in the decision-making stage. He said he is optimistic about the process so far, while acknowledging the difficulties ahead.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Smith said, “but there’s no doubt we have some tough decisions to make.”