Faculty Senate discusses LAS budget deficit


Photo by Katherine Kealey/Iowa State Daily

Beate Schmittmann, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, presenting Reimagining LAS to the Faculty Senate on Tuesday.

Katherine Kealey

The Faculty Senate heard a presentation about the College of Liberal Arts “reimagining” the budget as a result of financial constraints. 

The College of Liberal Arts and Science started fiscal year 2022 with an $11.4 million deficit on a $105 million budget. The college has managed this deficit by drawing from one-time and unrestricted foundation funds. Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Science Beate Schmittmann said this is clearly not a sustainable solution. 

As student enrollment has decreased, Schmittmann said the college has taken measures to reduce costs, such as reduced faculty hiring. A couple of years ago, the college cut 10 percent from all programs. 

“Last summer it became painfully clear to me that this is not sufficient, and a larger and more strategic effort had to be taken to restructure the college’s budget,” Schmittmann said. 

Fall of 2021 Iowa State enrolled roughly 20 percent fewer students than fall of 2016. The College of Liberal Arts receives 90 percent of its revenue from tuition, while the remainder is from state allocation and indirect cost returns. Schmittmann said this drop means a great deal for the college’s budget.

Students are also arriving in Iowa State with more college credits. In 2006, the average student entered college with 7.6 credits. Now it is 17.2 credits and predominantly coming from LAS courses. On the flip side of the coin, costs are also increasing. Schmittmann said finances are being squeezed at both ends. 

“In order to protect and support growing and nationally distinct programs, the budget cuts this time have to be differential,” Schmittmann said. “Driving a restructure of the college, we branded this initiative Reimagining LAS.”

Iowa State isn’t alone in this dilemma; Schmittmann said constrained budgets are an issue for other state institutions. While some programs continue to generate money, others have seen declines in enrollment for decades, Schmittmann said. 

“What we discovered is that based on these assumptions the college’s deficit will actually continue to grow from about $11.4 million today, to about $15 million in fiscal 25,” Schmittmann said. “And that’s roughly the midpoint between optimistic and conservative models.”

The college will address this deficit in a multi-year plan by working with financial planners from the provost office to examine budgets for the current and coming fiscal year. These projections will be based on enrollment, tuition and cost increase. The goal is to have budget reduction targets met by fiscal year 2026. 

Of the $15 million target, $1.55 million represents current outstanding debt in 12 departments, and those existing obligations remain. This is the remnant of the 10 percent cut. This equates to roughly 11 percent of the $15 million target.

About 48 percent, or $7.07 million, of the target will be allocated differently across the college’s academic departments. This corresponds to about 8.8 percent of the total operating costs for all academic departments. 

The leftovers of about $6.38 million will be allocated centrally to the college. This 41 percent of funds will be met through additional cuts in the college’s central services, relocation of unrestricted resources and pursuit of growth opportunities. This reduction would account for 17.8 percent of the college’s central operating costs. 

“It is important to know that Reimagining LAS will help the college support existing and develop new programs in response to student and employer needs,” Schmittmann told the Daily via an email response. “The college will be even better positioned to serve students.”

In the meantime, the provost’s office will provide the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a financial backstop during the implementation of Reimagining LAS.

“That gives us a little time to really think strategically,” Schmittmann said. “So the provost office will cover our fiscal year and spending authority deficit in LAS for the next three years with up to $4 million a year.”

How cuts are decided

Departments were divided up based on numerical data in five areas. Four of the areas are directly related to budget drivers in the college, which are also metrics department chairs have presented.

One set of factors is enrollment among undergraduate majors and change in enrollment. These numbers show who is growing and who isn’t, Schmittman said. 

Lastly is the metric for research productivity and impact. This data then provided each department with a score on how cuts would be made. The college is still at the beginning of implementing the initiative. Schmittmann said the college would be working with departments, and there are tools to create an action plan. There is also a financial evaluation and planning template to allow departments to consider the impacts of financial decisions.

“There will be a rethinking of programs, there may be merging of programs, there may even be elimination of programs,” Schmittmann said. “All the efforts undertaken will follow current university policies.”

Any students potentially impacted by the changes will have every opportunity to complete their degree, Schmittmann said. 

Faculty response

One senator raised the concern of whether faculty with tenure could be fired if their department was closed. Schmittmann said there is no intention to infringe on the right of tenure at Iowa State University. All action will likely come from retirements or voluntary departures.

Iowa State Senior Vice President Jonathan Wickert said he doesn’t remember there being conversations about firing tenure faculty in past times of financial constraint. Iowa State tenure faculty can be terminated if the university declares financial exigency, which did not happen during the pandemic or in the 2008 recession, Wickert said.

“There may be changes to academic department structure, there may be changes to academic programs,” Wickert said. “There may be shifts in tenure versus term faculty, individuals may decide to retire. Tenure will be honored going forward according to all the policies as we have laid out in the faculty handbook, all of those will be followed through this multi-year process that we are now embarking on.” 

Schmittmann said changes would depend on how departments plan to implement the new budget.

“They (term faculty) are people who carry a large portion, an increasing portion, of our teaching mission,” Schmittmann said. “They do that in a manner that is characterized by high quality and in a way that is financially very efficient and sustainable.”

The department of history saw one of the heavier cuts, losing 35 percent of its budget, including the 10 percent cut from past years. A large majority of the history department’s budget is consumed by salary. 

Schmittmann said the history department still generates revenues. Brian Behnken, an associate professor of history, said it is the faculty in the department who generate the revenue. When deciding on cost cuts, Wickert said he is unsure if there are faculty advisory groups on the budget cuts taking place.

The College of Liberal Arts and Science is the only college with a budget issue of this scale. Wickert said the issues the college is seeing are acute, and action now is for the future. 

“Each college has its own balance sheet and its own issues,” Wickert said. “Each college has its own strengths and opportunities and flexibility…Each college is very unique, that is something I see every day.”

Schmittmann said the college would be looking towards what future students want in terms of programs and interests to create growth.

“To me it is not so much a question as who is generating revenue, but how we can deliver our teaching and research mission in the most cost-efficient way,” Schmittmann said. “I think there are ways in which we can make progress, which really position the college for the future.”

Annemarie Butler, an associate professor for philosophy and religious studies, said she is concerned about budgetary decisions driving the natures of academic programs, which she believes will have existential impacts on what departments can do and the number of faculty departments can support.

“The natures of these cuts are centered on departments in the humanities and social sciences that support our diversity, equity and inclusion initiative,” Butler said. “We just had a discussion this year about how important it was… And now we are withholding resources from those departments and I am concerned that this isn’t the to-be statement I endorsed in the strategic plan.”