For the first time perhaps in its 123-year history, faculty, staff and students at Western Carolina University are helping develop a priority list that will shape the coming year’s budget.
“This has been a first pass at a new, and hopefully more open and transparent, budget process,” WCU Chancellor David Belcher told members of the university’s faculty senate last week.
Groups of stakeholders in the process — the administration, faculty and students — have been meeting to discuss the next fiscal year budget. The amount of money WCU will get from the state won’t actually be known until this summer. Last year, it wasn’t clear until August. But, Belcher emphasized that he wanted to initiate the process when everyone was still actually present on campus and not wait until dorms and classrooms were empty.
During the past month, two large meetings were held in which a series of framing questions were asked to define the issues facing the university. Belcher described the responses as “fascinating,” adding that they included instructional capacity, research and potential engagement with the outside community.
Educational issues emerged as the No. 1 priority of all involved, Belcher said.
“I think it was a very good process. Personally it was enlightening,” he said, noting that the budget decisions made and the rationales behind those budget decisions would be posted for public review.
Faculty Senate Chair Erin McNelis said for her part the clearest priority that emerged “was about students in the classroom and supporting the classroom.”
She asked if the meeting notes could be made available online, which the chancellor agreed to do.
Belcher did emphasize that the recommendations being reached by members of the administration, faculty and students aren’t necessarily “the gospel,” that WCU administration would have to work within the budget’s constraints. WCU in the past four years has experienced $30 million in cumulative budget cuts.
Phil Sanger, director of the WCU’s Center for Rapid Product Realization, emphasized that in his view “program prioritization” at WCU is key to good budgeting.
“We can’t make good decisions without knowing where to direct our efforts,” Sanger said.
Jason Lavigne, chair of WCU’s Staff Senate, said that in his 13 or so years at the university that this had proven the most enlightening budget process he’d experienced.