The wandering budget

    When Leslie McBride created the Contemplative Practice and Civic Engagement capstone, the funds for the class traveled a roundabout path to reach McBride and her students.

    Currently, funding for senior capstones is paid out by the University Studies budget and the capstone classes are offered through other departments on campus. Those departments receive an increased number of student credit hours, which translates to increased funding for the department from the university.

    Because the other departments receive the student credit hours and funds for those credit hours, University Studies is left in a budget deficit, according to Sukhwant Jhaj, University Studies interim director.

    The Portland State budget model has created a budget deficit in the University Studies program, leaving the future of the university’s general education program uncertain, Jhaj said. He said the current model Portland State uses to offer general education to its students is out of sync with the model it has developed for funding general education.

     The issue is severe, Jhaj said, and the university must work with a sense of urgency to bridge the budgeting disconnect or the quality of service University Studies offers will suffer.

    ”It’s this disconnect that causes problems and we need to find new models to address it,” Jhaj said. “This is a systemic problem. It’s going to be here next year and the year after that unless we can address how we share resources.”

    University Studies would need an additional $820,000 to offer the necessary capstone courses. Jhaj said about $700,000 is currently being sent from University Studies to other departments on campus, and that it is clear to everyone involved that the budget crisis is coming from capstone issues.

    The departments on campus rely on the funds coming from University Studies, said Roy Koch, provost and vice president for academic affairs. He said removing the $820,000 that moves to them would be “unfavorable to those departments.” He said that despite being taught in other departments, the capstones are still University Studies courses and the department should receive adequate funding for their expenses.

    Koch said that there is not a one-to-one ratio of student credit hours to dollars of funding, and one of the major issues is recognizing the productivity of certain units on campus and allocating funds accordingly. He said that the model of correlating student credit hours to the amount of funding dispersed is an important way of recognizing the productivity of a department. University Studies does not receive student credit hours from the capstones it funds.

    ”There’s this disconnect between the resources that went to producing that course and who got paid for it,” Koch said. “It’s hard to manage an institution where there is this confusion.”

    Koch said that there are a number of issues in the current budget model that need to be fixed, including the capstone matter. He said the administration is presently looking for ways to draw a relationship between the productivity of capstones and the funding that goes to them.

    ”We are going to ask whether we are doing things the right way, or if there are other ways to do them,” Koch said.

    Koch said the administration would be working on answers more closely now that the first week of school is over.

    The current funding model was created before Koch or Jhaj entered their respective positions. Koch said he assumes there was a good reason for developing this model, but it has made it difficult to make progress.

    He said University Studies is still new and this is one of many things that must be fixed in the department. “Let’s just say we’re still working out the details,” he said.

    Capstone coordinator Seanna Kerrigan said one major finance issue is how to maintain high quality in the 240 current capstones, when the department cannot afford to bring on enough full-time faculty. Faculty who work under half-time at the university do not receive benefits.

    Kerrigan said University Studies does not have the finances to pay for benefits of anymore full-time faculty. She said having a smaller number of faculty teaching a larger number of capstones would help to increase instructing quality by solidifying a base of faculty that could be monitored more easily.

    ”Obviously if you could offer more positions that have benefits attached to them,” Kerrigan said, “more trained faculty could teach more capstone courses.”

    The number of capstones has grown incrementally each year, from five in 1995, until it reached close to 200 a few years ago. Kerrigan said there is one instructor for each capstone, and in order to be competitive and retain faculty for longer periods of time – therefore increasing work quality ?” PSU must begin to offer benefits.

    A council was created this fall to look at issues relating to University Studies. The council will be examining, along with the administration, possible solutions to the budgeting discrepancy of the capstones.

    ”I think we have to work with all the stakeholders involved and address the core issue,” Jhaj said.

    McBride, also a member of the University Studies council and associate professor in Urban and Public Affairs, said most of the budget issues discussed in the council have pointed toward the need for more full-time faculty.

    She said the council has not specifically discussed the downside of the current budget model. She said she assumes that it will come up in next Monday’s meeting, when Shawn Smallman, vice provost for instruction and dean of undergraduate studies, will speak to the committee.

    McBride said that she hopes the committee will be able to remedy problems in the University Studies program, but said it would rely on whether or not the administration will decide to fund it adequately.

    ”My hope is that we can attend to some of the weaknesses and build on the strengths that University Studies has going for it – make it a little more proactive rather then reactive,” McBride said. “The question will always remain, will they be properly funded?”

    Koch said redoing the current budget model will not be easy, but it is essential. He said since this model was implemented, the university has molded itself around it, and any changes will affect all departments on campus.

    ”Once you set a process in place other things get organized around that,” Koch said. “Trying to undo something is often more difficult than doing it in the first place.”