Proposal would cut $600 mil from state universities

Increased tuition, elimination of thousands of jobs would result, officials warn

Published On:
Monday, January 19, 2009
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University officials responded in strong opposition last week to budget proposals they say would strip more than $600 million from Arizona universities over the next two years.

If the Arizona Legislature approves the proposals, several colleges and thousands of jobs would be eliminated and tuition would become unaffordable for many residents, officials warned.

The plans proposed by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, call for the university system to cut its budget by $243 million by July, and $388 million, about 40 percent, the following year, according to a statement released by the ASU Office of Public Affairs.

Sarah Atwill, student affairs director of ASU Undergraduate Student Government, said the quality of education in Arizona would plummet if the proposals succeed.

“A degree from any Arizona university wouldn’t have the same value,” she said.

The proposals would force ASU to slice up to $126 million from its budget by July and $194 million by July 2010.

Atwill said this will reduce the amount of financial aid available to students, increase class sizes and severely limit the resources needed for President Michael Crow’s vision of the New American University.

“This is something that absolutely cannot happen,” she said.

Arizona Board of Regents Vice President Ernest Calderon said the proposals would amount to the elimination of more than 2,000 faculty and staff positions at ASU.

“We’re already working with business leaders, faculty, students and others to try to bring some reason into the dialogue,” Calderon said. “We have made some overtures, but we haven’t had any serious discussion.”

Lobbyists for the three university presidents had discussed possible solutions with legislators, but Calderon said they had no indication the proposals would be so severe.

“We’re going to have to identify cuts that need to be made,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

The state budget crisis forced ASU to cut more than $37 million from its 2009 budget, which led to a loss of 265 jobs across the University. ASU eliminated 500 more staff positions, 200 faculty associates and two schools to prepare for further budget cuts, according to the Office of Public Affairs statement.

President Michael Crow said in the statement that the Legislature knew about the budget crisis for several months and failed to take any action to limit its effect on Arizona’s families and economy.

He said this year’s budget decisions will be the most important in Arizona’s history, so any discussion in the Legislature about the budget should be thoughtful and open to the public.

“Otherwise, the Arizona of the future may more closely resemble a far-off Third World country than nearby states such as Colorado and Texas,” he said.

ABOR President Fred Boice released a statement Thursday warning that the proposed budget cuts could damage Arizona’s future so strongly that it could never recover.

“Large numbers of university staff and faculty will lose their jobs, and there will be extensive elimination of programs and classes—creating a hole in the quality and quantity of our systems' offerings of generational proportions,” he said.

In addition, budget cuts will lead to significant tuition increases that make Arizona’s universities too expensive for residents to afford, Boice said.

“Our legislators must realize the long-term consequences that are not easily reversible, such as lost business, workforce and related revenues,” he said. “To not acknowledge this is not only poor public policy, it's irresponsible and unconscionable."

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