EMU unions organize meeting on budget concerns

EMU athletes and Robert Carpenter discuss ways to address budget issues at the university.

EMU-AAUP, the prominent teacher’s union at Eastern Michigan University, discussed recent job and athletic cuts at a public meeting over budget concerns. 

The meeting, taking place in Pray-Harrold room 204 on March 22 from 5 – 7 p.m., was organized to give students, faculty and community members a chance to discuss the recent budget announcements from EMU. Recently, the university decided to cut four sports from their athletics department, including wrestling and men’s swimming. On March 15, EMU-AAUP, along with students and faculty, held a protest against recent job cuts, leading up to the meeting. 

The small lecture hall was filled with 125 people, with every seat filled and the back of the room lined with participants. Multiple student athletes from men’s swimming, women’s swimming, wrestling and softball were in attendance, along with alumni from the same teams. 

Judy Kullberg, president of the EMU-AAUP, began the meeting with a short introduction to the problems to be discussed. Kullberg introduced Robert Carpenter, a professor at the college of education and faculty senate committee chair, who went on to introduce many of the budget concerns the university. 

“What I want to make clear is that this budgetary issue is not something that happened overnight,” Carpenter said. “This is a budgetary issue that has been set up over years of decision making.”

Carpenter used some slides during his PowerPoint presentation from the May 16 budget forum of 2017 along with his own data to demonstrate his points. According to Carpenter, the combined decrease of state funding and credit hours per semester and the increase in cost per student has resulted in the budgetary issues now being faced by the university. However, the combination of symptoms was something they’ve been aware of since 2003. 

In 2003, state appropriations to the school totaled at $84.9 million, while in 2018 the number is $75.5 million – a $9.5 million difference.  

“If we had adjusted – if we had the 85 million plus we adjusted for inflation, we’d have another $39.9 million we’d be working with today,” he said. “So what’s happening isn’t just inside this building, just inside of our campus, but it’s inside of our state as well.” 

Carpenter said that the decrease in state appropriations is not unique to EMU, but a common problem among universities today due to frequent cuts to higher education in general. However, he also said the change has been happening since 2004, and that preparations should have been made at that time to lessen the blow students now feel.

There was also reference to the decline of student credit hours (down 14 percent since 2003) and the increase in cost of the average student. While there are things that can’t be planned for, Carpenter suggested more effort is placed into creating a budget with reserves to have in case the unexpected happens. 

“We should plan for the things that are predictable and we should buffer ourselves,” he said. “But there are also the inside factors, which I think we as a community can also look at and have discussions around.” 

EMU-AAUP noted the things it has done in attempts to come up with better solutions to the budget issues, including:

  • Faculty Senate Budget Committee Annual reports examining budget and actuals from 2012 through 2016. 
  • Faculty Senate, AAUP, and student government report on athletic spending (4/16.)
  • Presentations to the Board of Regents about participatory budgeting. 
  • Budgetary forums such as the one taking place that day.

Upon the end of the presentation, a discussion was opened up to the crowd. Delaney Duncan, a swimmer for the women’s swim team, said her team practices with the men’s team every day, and they would be giving them their support. 

“To be at a school where we are obviously looked at as just a number – do we make money or do we not – is super hurtful,” she said. “EMU swim and dive men’s team has had 34 MAC championships, the head coach has been with Eastern for over 29 years, and to be eliminated over budgetary issues and cuts is super hurtful.” 

Chris Black, a former EMU swimmer, came to support the athletes at the meeting. 

“I’m a father of five boys – I go through ten gallons of milk a week – and I’m not kidding you when I say when you don’t have the money, you don’t spend it,” Black said. “So what I’d like to know is why is the university spending $35 million when they can’t afford $2.4 million?” 

Rita Shah, a professor of criminology, was frustrated by the idea that the decline in credit hours and state funding was known for years, yet nothing was done to prevent the current issues. 

“We’ve known this for years: there is zero reason for the president, for the administration, for the Regents to suddenly say ‘we don’t have money’,” she said.

After the discussion, a participatory exercise began to think of experimental ways to save money. The ideas formulated will be summarized and presented at Welch Hall via a rally to take place Tuesday, March 27 at noon at the fountain outside the building. 

James Smith, the president of the university, was unable to attend the meeting due to pre-scheduled obligations for the undergraduate symposium. According to a news release by EMU Today, Smith suggested having the meeting rescheduled to a date when he could attend, but the union chose to keep the preset date and time. 

As part of an effort to communicate more regularly with students and faculty about the budget, EMU also sent out an email informing the campus about their budget information website. The website includes budget messages, press releases, slides from budget forums held by president smith and other sources. 

A 2017 PDF of Faculty Senate recommendations making ‘significant cuts to the areas not specifically related to the academic mission of the university.’ It is unclear if those recommendations were specifically to cut sports altogether or to cut the budgets of sports. 

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