University faces constant cuts

Portland State University has experienced a continual series of state funding reductions throughout this fiscal year, the total extent of which will remain undetermined until the fate of ballot Measure 28 is decided on Jan. 28.

The university has experienced four separate reductions in state appropriations.

State appropriations typically account for half or more of the total cost of university operations. The reductions this year, in tandem with a $120 tuition surcharge, have shifted the burden to tuition.

The first reduction came at the end of five special congressional sessions and resulted in a $7.6 million funding shortfall, addressed by a series of cuts to all university departments in October.

While all departments were affected, Cathy Dyck, associate vice president for finance and planning, explains that academic departments were protected from the deep cuts.

“Academic departments were asked to cut 0.9 percent from their budgets, administration was asked to cut 5 percent, and intercollegiate athletics was reduced by 8 percent,” Dyck said.

Those cuts still resulted in the equivalent of nine full-time “academic” positions (individually contracted unclassified employees) being cut from departments including the development office, the provost’s office, the School of Business and Administration, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and others.

Most of the positions eliminated were actually unfilled positions that those departments affected are no longer looking to fill.

Jeanie-Marie Price, director of marketing and communications, explains that the cut position in her department was a vacant position that is, for the time being, no longer expected to be filled.

“No one was technically laid off, but that doesn’t mean it was painless,” Price said.

Many of the cuts from that first round came from traveling expenses and office operating costs (known as S&S). Dyck explains that even those cuts aren’t painless, especially for smaller departments.

“It is difficult to cut it out of your S&S because many smaller departments have difficulties making their daily budgets,” Dyck said.

After this budget was approved in October, a series of new funding reductions came down from the state.

In September, an additional $500,000 reduction came from the state, followed in the coming months by more reductions.

Another $5.6 million in reductions triggered the tuition surcharge, with the hope that an economic recovery was on the horizon.

Ultimately, that hope was short-lived.

“In December, another $1.7 million reduction was made that had to do with revenue projections made by the state that it failed to meet,” Dyck said.

While PSU still intends to return the value of the tuition surcharge to students if Measure 28 passes, the likelihood of an economic turnaround saving the university seems unlikely.