A $138,000 fountain, the crowning jewel in a larger, $2.3 million construction project, is being built at Western Carolina University. This is just one of five big-ticket undertakings now under way on campus during this time of state-mandated budget cuts.
In the College of Education and Allied Professions (Killian room 218) there’s a new $5,752.30 table for meetings, and chairs that cost $6,142.50. They replaced what were described as perfectly adequate furniture. Not to mention four treadmill workstations ordered in 2009 for the same WCU college, for several thousand dollars each.
University officials defend the purchases and construction projects. They point the finger instead at state guidelines mandating exactly how money can be spent.
The university is faced with $8.6 million in cuts because of a trickledown state shortfall. In response, WCU this month announced it was cutting 10 positions. Fifteen additional positions are anticipated for elimination by July 1.
Campus leaders met this week (March 16) with the western legislative delegation — members of the General Assembly representing WNC — to argue their case for continued state support. Chancellor John Bardo said he would ask legislators to minimize budget cuts, not to take more than they must, to give universities maximum flexibility to minimize damage, and for WCU to be allowed to retain tuition money from a proposed 6.5-percent increase.
Just filling in holes
Bardo, in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News, defended construction projects under way on the campus; the dean of the College of Education did the same for expenses incurred under his watch.
“I can’t move money from capital expense to pay salaries,” said Bardo, who retires from WCU this summer. “I guess I could stop the construction and leave a hole. But I still couldn’t use the money.”
That ensuing hole would be the fountain, part of WCU’s move to create a new pedestrian walkway and gathering area between several major buildings in the center of campus.
Bardo said he was aware of complaints, that the building goes on, almost unabated it seems, even while real people are left packing their bags and saying goodbye. This hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I went through all of it at the open meeting (on campus),” the chancellor said. “People don’t want to hear, and I understand. But this is the way the state has set it up.”
Creating a healthy workplace, that’s all
Dean Perry Schoon said, via email, the tables and chairs are “part of a long-term plan that involved updating an existing room into a smart classroom/conference area for graduate coursework, and converting an existing office space into classroom space.”
There was more, along the same lines, but here’s the bottom line: Schoon said, as did Bardo, “the funds used for this purchase are non-recurring dollars and thus cannot be used for faculty salaries.”
The treadmills, the dean said, tapped “non-instructional funding.” They were setup in both the Killian and Reid Gymnasium buildings (the College of Education encompasses space in both buildings).
“The workstations are being used in research studies on health conducted by our faculty in concert with graduate students,” Schoon said. “In addition, all faculty and staff in those buildings have access to the rooms where the workstations reside and are thus able to work in a healthier environment rather than being static all day at their desks …”
It remains unclear why the WCU employees couldn’t use equipment already available in Reid. Or even get some exercise by simply walking next door to use equipment available at the new $16.7 million Campus Recreation Center.