Budget cuts are made at the bottom, but the message is crafted up top


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Top administrators have been willing to share details about their handling of the budget deficit, yet deans and department leaders have shown greater reluctance to divulge information.

Alan Perez, Campus Editor

To top administrators and undergraduate students alike, the budget deficit was a surprise.

When Provost Jonathan Holloway informed Faculty Senate of the budget shortfall in January, some senators were puzzled. “Everything financial always seemed pretty rosy,” Feinberg Prof. Lois Hedman said at the time. Students were anticipating an ambitious plan to renovate and construct new residence halls. Now, those plans are on hold.

And certainly, no one expected the layoffs that ultimately came in July — Provost Holloway had been telling employees for months that he did not plan to make cuts that drastic.

The University leadership has seemingly attempted to limit confusion that has spread through the Northwestern community, with emails, appearances at Faculty Senate and interviews with student media.

But to many members of the community, particularly students, the deficit is still a complex, unknown phenomenon. Many are asking administrators to do more.

“There isn’t a lot of transparency about the budget cuts to the students — about how this happened, why it’s happening,” Associated Student Government President Sky Patterson said in an interview earlier this month. “Students would like more transparency and more information about University spending.”

Top administrators have been willing to share details about their handling of the budget deficit, even admitting to their own surprise about just how bad the University’s financial stance had become. Yet deans and department leaders, who oversee continuing cuts felt hardest by researchers and students, have shown greater reluctance to divulge information. Academic departments and schools were instructed to make 5 percent cuts, while administrative departments were told to cut 10 percent of its spending.

“We do not share these kinds of details,” School of Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe wrote in response to emailed questions about the school’s handing of budget cuts.

Many of the deans and department leaders hit hardest by the cuts have been difficult to reach for interviews. Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph has not responded to multiple requests for interviews to discuss cuts to the school. Bienen School of Music Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery declined to comment, and McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Julio M. Ottino and O’Keefe refused to answer detailed questions, instead offering short, unspecific statements that said the schools did not have to make layoffs.

Some administrators cancelled interviews after initially agreeing to them. Pritzker School of Law Dean Kimberly Yuracko did not respond to emailed questions after having to miss a previously scheduled interview to attend a student event honoring the victims of the shooting earlier last month at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The forced budget cuts this year have been handled differently across schools and departments, as administrators point to their distinct financial conditions. Smaller and well-funded schools see a more positive outlook, like the Feinberg School of Medicine and the School of Education and Social Policy, while others like Weinberg and the School of Law have dealt with workforce reductions.

Holloway told The Daily the deans’ reticence was at his direction, as he instructed them to limit discussion with the media as administrators worked at constructing their message.

And while multiple University officials have referred comment to Craig Johnson, the senior vice president for business and finance, he has evaded interviews with reporters.

“Are you guys meeting with him regularly yet?” Provost Holloway asked Daily editors in an interview earlier this month. Johnson has not personally responded to any requests for comment this quarter.

Adjustments to University operations this fall suggest cuts have yet to be finalized. Just this month, custodial services were reduced, and academic departments are still pulling back their programs.

As the Northwestern community feels more of the cuts, administrators may be pressed to give more answers.

“I do want to get to a place where you and the broader Northwestern community will have much more information at predictable times during the year,” Holloway said.

Amy Li contributed reporting.

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