President Schapiro says the budget deficit was ‘substantially worse’ than he expected


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

University President Morton Schapiro spoke at length on Wednesday about the budget deficit, which is expected to run until at least August 2019. In July, the University dismissed 80 administrators.

Alan Perez, Campus Editor

University President Morton Schapiro said Wednesday that the current fiscal year that began a few weeks ago is expected to run a deficit, prolonging what he called the “unexpected” $62.5 million budget shortfall that began earlier this year.

During an interview with The Daily, the president lamented the University’s dismissal of 80 staff members in July, adding that at least 80 additional vacant positions were also eliminated.

“It was excruciating, it really was,” he said. “And I feel sorry for people who lost their job.”

Schapiro said the decisions on who to let go were made “very carefully.” Many of them, he said, were high-level supervisors for construction projects, which the University has slowed down after the campus has changed dramatically in recent years with the addition of buildings like 560 Lincoln and the Kellogg Global Hub.

“Some of it was more natural, and some of it was harder but we looked at it very carefully, making sure that by gender, and by any other metric, making sure we weren’t doing anything unfair,” Schapiro said. “Obviously every time we eliminate a position, for someone who’s at a high level, supervisory, making a lot of money with salary and benefits, that’s two more lower-level people. We try to take a look at the range of different salaries.”

The deficit, Schapiro said, was the result of a “perfect storm,” including increased investments by Northwestern in new buildings and affordability initiatives like doctoral stipends and financial aid. Schapiro said funding to student financial aid would not suffer as the University tightens its belt.

Schapiro said the downturn took his administration and the Board of Trustees by surprise: The University has been running surpluses for years. Throughout the spring, Schapiro said, the estimates for the deficit got increasingly worse. It wasn’t until June that they realized its full extent.

“I didn’t expect any layoffs,” he said. “The deficit turned out to be larger than we thought, and we had to do what we needed to do.”

When the estimate for the deficit was publicly disclosed by Provost Jonathan Holloway in January, senior administrators downplayed the gravity of the financial troubles, with Holloway initially painting the condition as an “annoyance” while saying the University did not plan for layoffs.

On Wednesday, Schapiro added blame to miscommunication in the administration and budgeting systems that didn’t effectively work with each other.

“We just didn’t coordinate all the numbers so that we were on the same page,” he said. “I think we’re doing it now.”

Although he said there is still some uncertainty surrounding the budget, Schapiro said he expects the University will again reach a surplus by this time next year.

“We’re still in good shape,” the president said. “We’re trying to get through this and move on. I hope that at the end of the day we’re more efficient.”

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