Just weeks ago, The Pauw Wow reported that the administration of Saint Peter’s University announced a five-year plan to reduce expenditures to combat a budget shortfall. This week, that timeline is being cut short.
According to Provost and academic Vice President Fredrick Bonato, the university wishes to take more immediate, consequential action to address the budget deficit so as to demonstrate “fiscal health to government and accrediting entities.”
In the open forum for the Strategic Planning and Budget Committee, Bonato estimated that the deficit for this fiscal year is approximately $3.8 million, not accounting for other debts accumulated in years past.
Rather than spread out the reductions in spending over the next half-decade, “the university has decided to responsibly address the shortfall now,” said Bonato.
How will this be done? According to the Vice President, there are a few key steps being taken to further reduce costs:
A temporary cessation of contributions to employee 401(k) plans for a 5-month period.
A 5% reduction in overall spending in addition to the 5% originally proposed, totalling 10% for this fiscal year.
Delays in filling some vacant positions and the reclassification of other positions.
The elimination of currently "active positions."
Renegotiations of contracts with certain vendors.
How exactly these changes might affect the day-to-day experience at Saint Peter’s has yet to be seen but according to the president, they were a necessary step.
“[This] is part of a carefully thought out plan to address the impact of the changes in the higher education landscape, including the state’s free community college program among others,” said Dr. Cornacchia.
In other words, potential students are electing to attend other institutions which is causing enrollment at Saint Peter’s to decline.
But some students aren’t so convinced, like Maia Bustamante, a first-year student whose sister graduated from Saint Peter’s in 2018.
“Overall, I’m tired of hearing that the budget deficit that is occuring is due to the small size of the freshman class,” she said. “It was the responsibility of the school, specifically Admissions, to drum up interest in our school and get more students to enroll.”
She also expressed concerns about future plans to spend revenue as a member of the Student Government.
“Even though we are in desperate need of new dorms, why are we going to spend millions of dollars in order to build a new building?” She concluded, “we should focus on improving our current ones.”
That plan, according to the president in an interview published last month, has been informed by “Board members and alumni [along with] business executives and people from other industries,” but that leaves the faculty with an ever-deepening concern for the trajectory of the institution.
Anna Brown, Ph. D. is the chair of the Political Science and Social Justice programs and for her, the budget cuts hit quite close to home as the leader of two smaller humanities departments.
“We’re already doing our best with very little resources,” she said, emphasizing the need for a “robust humanities curriculum” to counter the finance-centered thought of the business world. These changes, however, threaten that mission.
“This is the colonization of the university sphere by capitalism. Everything is framed toward that end… the language [used by administration] is that of the market,” Brown said. “We’re entrusting ourselves to the geniuses who derailed the entire economy in 2008, who had to be bailed out by the taxpayers and then who restructured the economy in a way that still benefits this small group of people…. It’s frightening for me to see that this is the direction that we seemingly are headed.”
Some students are likewise concerned that these cuts might eventually impact the educational experience at Saint Peter’s University.
“At the end of the day, future students’ educations [are] at stake when issues like this arise,” said senior Aliyah Rawles. “I feel as though the university is not focused on this, but instead the monetary concerns.”
While some of these changes may create new challenges for students and staff, the hope, on the part of the administration, is to strengthen the university for the coming years.
“As difficult as some of these steps are for those affected,” said Dr. Cornacchia, “they will better position the University for future stability and growth.”