NU’s Planning and Budget group funds small changes

Nathalie Tadena

Northwestern will fund improvements to Norris University Center and residential halls and fund the Saturday intercampus shuttle to Chicago, as proposed by the Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee, according to a letter from Provost Dan Linzer and Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Eugene Sunshine.

“We were pretty happy (with the administrators’ decision),” said Sandeep Kini, the committee chairman. “We’re not pessimistic, but we were very cautious about what to expect because of the economic situation. The university really takes to heart the needs of the students.”

The Planning and Budget group agreed to provide at least some funding for almost all of the recommendations that the committee proposed.

A major request this year by the student committee concerned improvements within Norris that included both renovations for the current building and a proposal to create a new student center space. The Planning and Budget Group ruled that building a new student center would not be possible in the near future, but administrators said they will pursue improvements in Norris’ basement level, including new furniture and lighting similar to the setup of the first floor lounge area, starting this summer.

“We understood we couldn’t create a new Norris center in a year, and we understood we couldn’t put that many funds into it, but we still want to place a new student center in administrators’ minds as a number-one priority for the next five to 10 years,” Kini said.

In determining funding for the fiscal year, administrators must take into account current economic conditions, said Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis. This year, NU’s operating budget was cut by 5 percent, he said.

“In the long run, we have to see how the economy moves and how our investments rebound,” he said. “For major capital projects like Norris and new housing, we will probably need to have either gift support or will need gift support in other areas so the university could use gift money to reallocate for projects like Norris. We’re approaching this in both a short-term and long-term way.”

Members of the Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee meet with administrators annually to request funding for on-campus projects. Generally, the committee aims to present recommendations that would improve the day-to-day NU experience for students.

“It’s a great thing that we do, because who knows better what students here want than students?” Sunshine said in an interview with The Daily last week, adding that the students’ requests were “well-thought out” and “professional.”

When deciding what to fund, it is also important to consider the cost-benefit relationship of funding certain programs, Banis said.

“When we look at the request to fund the intercampus shuttle to Chicago, they provided us with good data on ridership,” he said.

In addition to the Chicago shuttle, the Planning and Budget Group will also continue to fund Be the Change Grants administered by the Center for Student Involvement this year. Funding for a mid-winter activity, however, was withdrawn due to a lack of student consensus on how to plan the activity.

The committee’s request for late-night dining on North campus was not funded, but Kini said this may be because administrators were unsure of how many students would utilize the option. Some of the committee’s major requests, such as enhanced cellular reception in locations on campus and major improvements to Norris, will be addressed gradually when there are appropriate funds, administrators said.

“UBPC deserves a lot of credit for being thoughtful and appropriate in how they approached their recommendations with the economic collapse and Northwestern’s tight budgets,” Banis said. “They positioned it very well and differentiated between shorter-term priorities as well as longer-term priorities, particularly Norris University Center’s renovations.”

In the meantime, NU will make “incremental improvements without running up a lot of debt,” Banis said.

In residential halls, the university will fund white boards that the committee requested and will also continue to pursue sustainability and safety measures. Last year, NU allocated money to improve wireless and air conditioning in some buildings and will continue to add these amenities incrementally to other buildings.

“We’re funding what we can,” Banis said. “Major capital projects are just being deferred not only just for student life (projects) but for academic programs as well. We have to be prudent with how we use our money we’re doing our best to cut costs where we can and hunker down until the economy turns around.”

[email protected]