State budget cuts worry Werner

IUP Interim President David J. Werner, WIUP-FM, Sept. 12, 2010. Photo by David Loomis.

By Crispin Havener

Indiana University of Pennsylvania President David J. Werner expressed concern on Wednesday morning about the campus’ future only hours after Gov. Tom Corbett on Tuesday proposed a 20 percent cut in spending for state-owned universities.

Speaking alone from the front rows of a half-full Gorrell auditorium in Sutton Hall, Werner told his audience of faculty members and staff that the cut would mean $10.3 million less state money for IUP. However, with increases in benefit and retirement pay, utility prices and other costs, Werner said the total loss in next year’s budget will be closer to $13 million.

The president spoke at what was billed as an “open forum” for employees, who were invited to ask questions on a wide range of topics. However, the only topic covered was the governor’s proposed cuts. The scheduled hour-long meeting adjourned after about 20 minutes.

Last year, the governor proposed a 50 percent cut in support for all schools in the State System of Higher Education and state-related universities, a figure later negotiated down to 19 percent. The cut resulted in a 7.2 percent tuition increase, fee increases, as well as other cuts and employment freezes.

This budget year, Werner said, presents a bigger challenge.

“Who knows what the legislature is going to do?” Werner said. “There is less wiggle room in this year’s budget.”

Werner noted that President Obama spoke about higher education costs in last month’s State of the Union address . Combined with the governor’s proposed budget cutting, the university faces harsh prospects, Werner added.

“We’re concerned about how high it will go before it has a real negative effect,” he said.

Werner expressed additional concern about a 5 percent mid-year budget cut that he said would cost IUP $2.6 million. The state has put the cut on hold at the request of the SSHE board of governors.

Werner said he hopes the IUP budget cut will be reduced to $1 million from the governor’s proposed $10.3 million reduction. Werner said the lower figure could be more easily absorbed by IUP. He added that he hoped the uncertainty could be resolved soon.

Werner said he will be meeting with campus officials Wednesday to start making a budget plan. He added that it is too early to know what IUP will do if the cuts are passed.

In response to an audience question, Werner said he is in constant contact with incoming President Michael A. Driscoll, who will take office in July.

“My goal is that he walks in the door with us having solved a lot of problems and not creating new ones,” Werner said.

Earlier in the week in Harrisburg, the chancellor of the SSHE and the chair of its governing board issued a statement saying that the governor’s proposed budget would put the system “at risk.” The spending plan “provides only $2 million more than the system received 24 years ago in 1988-89. During that period we have added 23,000 students,” wrote Chancellor John C. Cavanaugh and board chair Guido Pichini.

IUP faculty union President Susan Drummond reacted to the proposed cuts in the union’s monthly newsletter released Thursday. The proposed budget reductions are “enough to paralyze our already weakened ability to deliver on the promise of affordable education to the students of Pennsylvania,” Drummond wrote.

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