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Spending and Staffing Budget Freezes

     On Monday Feb. 6, 2017 Eastern University President Dr. Robert Duffett announced that there would be both a staffing and spending freeze imposed on Eastern, effective immediately. This is due to Eastern being an approximate $1.5 million behind budget projections for the current fiscal year. Eastern’s budget for each fiscal year (July 1–June 30) is based on anticipated revenue for the coming year and the anticipated amount that will be needed to run the institution. Provost Dr. Keith Iddings notes, “If we miss and either revenues are lower or expenses are higher, we have to cut things out of the budget. This year, we didn’t see as many students enroll in our non-traditional (adult) undergraduate programs. That reduced our revenue, necessitating a reduction in spending.”

     In order to meet this reduction in spending, Eastern has frozen spending and staffing positions, unless otherwise approved. In his email, Duffett elaborates on the two freezes:

     “Spending Freeze. Effective immediately, all non-essential expenditures (whether budgeted or not) are suspended. All essential expenditures, including credit card transactions, require prior approval by the Supervising Executive (i.e., Vice President, Vice Provost or Provost) of that area.”

     “Staffing Freeze. Also effective immediately, all job vacancies, promotions and payroll adjustments have been suspended. (This includes positions that were previously authorized for hire.) Any payroll actions will be subject to final approval by the University President.”

     Vice Provost for Student Development, Dr. Bettie Ann Brigham, has seen such financial actions come and go during her time at Eastern. She says, “My overall feeling is within Student Development, we are pushing the mission forward, we are still offering the services we need to offer, we are meeting the needs of students and we are going to weather this storm.” Brigham adds, “It seems that everyone is pulling together. So that’s a big plus. People are really looking at things carefully and working extra hours to make up for open positions. I think the attitude of the community is that we want to make this work—our mission is worth it, our mission is going to go forward and we are going to work hard to make that happen.” However, Brigham notes departments now have to petition to fill a position. For instance, the women’s soccer coach position is currently under petition to be filled. Brigham mentions that with spring non-traditional training and recruiting, it is imperative to fill this position.

     Faculty members have expressed varying viewpoints in regards to the freezes. Co-Chair of the English Department, Dr. Christopher Bittenbender, says, “They have not had a tremendous impact on us, only in that we had not actually used much of budget in the fall. We did have things planned in the spring that we had to rethink. So fortunately for us we have been able to reschedule some things or move them to the future with the hope that we have more funding available in the fall.” Chair of the Political Science Department, Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe, says that the departments have to “control as much spending as possible” and “have to get everything approved.” At the same time, she adds that the “University tries to accommodate” and continue “strategic efforts to practice quality education and allow students to grow.” For instance, the administration approved the financial expenditures to allow professor Dr. Alexios Alexander to attend the Model U.N. conference, which allowed Model U.N. students to fulfill the Model U.N. requirements and receive credit.

     Brigham notes that while enrollment is down, retention is up. Thomas A. Dahlstrom, Director of Eastern’s Institutional Research, reports that the official enrollment for fall 2016 is 3,420, compared to 4,476 total students in fall 2010. However, as of 2015, retention rates (as defined by the retention graph key shown above) are up from 2014. In order not to have freezes in the future, Brigham says, “We need to have higher enrollment and have more donations.” Iddings stresses that freezes are necessary measures to balance the budget and that Eastern is committed to serving its students. He says, “The task of balancing the budget every year is an important obligation of good management.”

     Sources: Bettie Ann Brigham, Christopher Bittenbender, Thomas Dahlstrom, Robert Duffett, Keith Iddings, Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe

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