No shortfall foreseen for NU’s budget

Sheila Burt and Sheila Burt

After Northwestern officials reduced academic and administrative budgets across the board last year, NU’s preliminary budget forecast indicates that funds in all areas will not see cuts again in 2005, financial officials said.

Last year deans and vice presidents in various departments and schools slashed budgets between 2 and 2.75 percent. The reallocation was one of the largest in the past decade.

“This year, we don’t see the shortfall,” said Jim Elsass, NU’s associate vice president for budget planning. “We still have some major needs, but we’re not dealing with the unexpected items we had to deal with last year.”

Elsass said almost all budgets will increase by about 2 percent, depending on the area of the university.

He said the university also expects to increase staff salaries — important for remaining competitive with peer institutions — by roughly 3 percent. Last year faculty and staff salaries increased 2.5 percent.

A routine tuition increase also is expected when the Board of Trustees meets next month.

Final decisions will be made in April, and the budget will go to the board in June, Elsass said.

Eugene Sunshine, NU’s senior vice president for business and finance, said “these are critical months” for planning, but “the macro-financial picture of the university” doesn’t indicate a need for any drastic reallocating.

A number of factors — including the depressed economy and increased operating expenses for new buildings — caused last year’s budget reallocation.

Elsass said an benefit rate change for employees last year caused a $3.5-million impact on the budget, and “management problems” at the School of Continuing Studies caused the university to lose about $1 million because operations were not generating usual money.

New buildings also added $1.1 million in operating costs.

“When you add this to (existing budget issues), we didn’t have enough revenue to cover all of the things that we needed to do,” Elsass said. “Plus we did not know how soon the economy would turn around, so we wanted to be cautious and make certain that we didn’t roll forward our budget problems.”

Without a budget reallocation, school officials said they will continue to watch spending but can place their energies elsewhere.

“Basically we can focus on how we’re looking to the future,” said Adair Waldenberg, associate dean for business and finance for the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “(But) you always have to be alert to reallocating the sources. We won’t do it in quite as big a way, but I suspect there will always be reallocation.”

Officials at the Medill School of Journalism cut telephone expenses and left a faculty position empty after the reallocation, said Richard Roth, associate dean of administration for the school.

Because there won’t be a budget reallocation, Roth said the school will be better positioned to spend about $200,000 this year to start replacing almost one-third of the school’s 450 computers.

At the School of Music, which faces financial difficulties because of costly one-on-one training, officials will continue to look at ways to cut the budget but now can “think more strategically.”

“We continue to self-evaluate how we use our resources because that’s a constant goal,” said Rene Machado, associate dean for administration and finance for the school.

Michael Besancon, associate dean for administration finance and planning for the McCormick School of Engineering, said last year the school conducted fewer searches to fill faculty positions and made some smaller cuts in paper and transportation expenses.

Out of McCormick’s approximate $27-million allocation this year, Besancon said about $1.5 million went to increasing faculty and staff salaries. Still, next year’s budget may not show any drastic changes for the school.

“We shouldn’t have to cut more than we’ve already cut,” he said.