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January 24, 2024

UConn budget cuts would ‘destabilize’ university, staff say during protest

JESSIKA HARKAY / CT MIRROR Dozens of faculty, staff and students protested anticipated budget cuts at UConn on Jan. 23, 2024.

On the eve of a town hall meeting planned for Wednesday, University of Connecticut faculty, staff and students protested the administration’s five-year financial plan, claiming anticipated budget cuts would “fundamentally destabilize” the university.

As COVID-19 relief funding runs out, UConn is expecting a $70 million deficit in fiscal year 2025, which begins in July. The university’s current budget is roughly $1.6 billion.

In an effort to “achieve financial sustainability,” the university said it plans to seek new revenues and expand existing streams, request an additional $47.3 million from the state this legislative session and is prepared to reduce approximately 15% of its operating support budgets for all academic units over a five-year period, including 3% next fall.

The university will hold a town hall to answer questions about its budget on Wednesday.

Faculty and staff worry that the cuts will jeopardize “the mission of the university to serve our undergraduates, as well as our graduate students,” Jeffrey Ogbar, UConn-AAUP union president said, as they anticipate cuts to teacher assistants and graduate assistantships, in addition to larger class sizes, reduced tutoring and academic support, reduced course offerings and increased department workloads.

“The university’s budget cannot absorb these budget cuts and survive as a world class research one university,” Ogbar said. “We cannot cut 15% over these years. We will have to lose faculty members. We will have to close graduate programs. We will have to cease operations with basic courses that are [general education] and required.”

“We can strip money from our current programs, but what the university is going to look like next year, or the year after that, is going to be substantially different from what we’ve got now,” said, Eric Schultz, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Connecticut should be proud of this institution. Now, I fear, that they will not be proud of this institution in several years because of what’s been proposed.”

In response to the union’s concerns, a spokesperson from the university said administrators “recognize the challenges the anticipated budget shortfalls present, but we have shared goals of maintaining UConn and UConn Health’s academic, research, and clinical strengths,” adding that “non-academic units including administrative, support services, clinical, and athletics, have [also] been asked to prepare for potential budget reductions by identifying efficiencies and strategies to increase revenue.”

Jeff Geoghegan, the chief financial officer for UConn and UConn Health, said the university’s $70 million deficit this upcoming fiscal year was mostly “made up of two items,” including the one-time use of $16.1 million to balance its current budget and the reduction of $47.3 million in state funding.

In addition to the anticipated 15% reduction of operating support at its campuses, UConn plans to cover part of its deficit by focusing on maximizing its enrollment, endowment growth and requesting additional state support, Geoghegan said.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, however, has rejected the idea of additional funding into the state’s higher education institutions, beyond the levels lawmakers already included last June in the preliminary state budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Chris Collibee, the governor’s budget spokesperson, said Tuesday that the administration has “allocated over $1 billion in supplemental state funding to assist our public higher education units transition from one-time federal pandemic funding to an ongoing sustainable level of state funding,” and that the funding was “never intended to result in increased ongoing state support.”

“It was intended to create a bridge to facilitate financial stability during the pandemic. Any increase in state support would have to fit into a balanced budget that complies with the fiscal guardrails,” said Collibee, who also added that the state has provided one of the highest funding per student in the country. “In sum, the university has a variety of ways to manage costs or increase revenue without increased state support. We encourage UConn and UConn Health to implement strategies that enable them to adapt to the elimination of the federal funds.” 

Staff writer Keith Phaneuf contributed to this story.

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