After eight years of enrollment and institutional growth, UTC must put on the brakes to satisfy millions of dollars in higher education cuts, and some students worry that, as budget cuts mount, they will pay more for less.
“I think that it is just extremely frustrating when you come to a university expecting certain things and you very well may not get them,” said Tyler Forrest, vice president of the UTC Student Government Association. “Students are paying for services that they may not get.”
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga likely will have to cap enrollment, cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from scholarships and athletics and lay off staff next year, said Dr. Richard Brown, UTC’s vice chancellor for finance and operations, who released a plan Friday to reduce next year’s budget by 20 percent.
“Basically, in order to get at numbers this large, we will have to potentially reduce employee head count and operating dollars in all areas across the university,” Dr. Brown said. “We may not be able to afford the growth we have been experiencing.”
The cuts at UTC — totaling $8.4 million — are in response to a $181 million cut to higher education ordered by Gov. Phil Bredesen earlier this week.
If UTC tuition increases by 7 percent next year — a likely increase, according to officials — the school will cut more than $350,000 in scholarships and nearly $600,000 from athletics, according to UTC budget documents.
Rick Hart, UTC athletic director, said he is not discouraged by the severity of the athletic cuts and will be working on a plan in coming weeks.
“We’ve got to begin to come together and attack this and really have our student-athlete experience remain at the quality we think they deserve,” he said. “We will have to work harder and do more, but we will get through this and do it together.”
Academics will be cut by $3.8 million at UTC if tuition is increased by 7 percent, according to budget documents. The cut will include trimming the UTC Wellness Program, University Honors, graduate programs, program accreditation, commencement and the Walker Teaching Resource Center.
The Children’s Center, Challenger Center and Cadek Conservatory of Music also will lose funding, Dr. Brown said.
The school will be relying on graduate teaching assistants and adjunct faculty to assist in teaching as class sizes grow, and many faculty positions will remain unfilled, he said.
Some staff jobs, such as groundskeeping and maintenance could be cut or outsourced, he said. The operations of McKenzie Arena could be outsourced as well, according to UTC documents.
UTC Provost Phil Oldham is working with a committee to identify what programs and majors should be cut, and he will make a report on academic cuts in mid-January, Dr. Brown said.
“We must ensure a strong instructional core because, at the end of the day, our mission is to teach,” he said. “Effective teaching is central to what we do. We must realize that, as an institution, we have been subjected to budget reductions over the last 10 years. So very little flexibility remains in the overall budget. There is little to no fat.”
At the same time, faculty and staff are angry.
“We are pissed and beguiled,” said Dr. Pedro Campa, a UTC professor and Faculty Senate president. “We are in the last rung in the interest of the state Legislature and the UT system.”
The cuts will be devastating to academics, Dr. Campa said, and he wants to know why UTC administrators have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on expansion at the school without shoring up its academic functions.
“In a house, the main thing is feeding your children and maintaining your property; those things have to be taken care of first, but we don’t seem to think that,” Dr. Campa said. “Expansion costs should have been put on the back burner.”
Administrators are looking at cutting majors with low graduation rates, but Dr. Campa said that measure can be problematic. While some majors such as Latin may not have a lot of graduates, it offers a lot to the scholarship of the university as a whole. There are many programs that fall into the same category, he said.
As cuts become inevitable, Dr. Campa said he also expects to see many young, vibrant faculty members abandon ship.
“We are certain to lose very valuable faculty, some faculty that we had great hopes for in the future,” he said.
Dr. Shela Van Ness, associate professor of sociology at UTC and vice president of the UT faculty and staff union, said she is concerned about the outsourcing of groundskeeping or maintenance jobs to out-of-state companies.
“A lot of employees will be working with no benefits at little pay,” Dr. Van Ness said. “When you have a bunch more people on food stamps, how is that going to save the state?”
With larger classes and fewer staff members to teach them, Dr. Van Ness said students, especially freshmen, will not receive the help and attention they need. Officials want graduations rates to improve in order to increase tuition dollars, but retaining students will be difficult in this environment, she said.
“This is going to hit a critical point within a year if this doesn’t turn around,” Dr. Van Ness said.
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...