Editor's Note: In a previously posted news release from Western New Mexico University, President Joseph Shepard listed some of the problems the university faces. At a press conference following a meeting with faculty and staff, he answered questions from the press and explained some of the issues. This article will cover the questions posed on those issues.
WNMU President Joseph Shepard told assembled press members that the present faculty to student ratio is 1:13, which is a favorable rate for students at a smaller university like Western. Faculty members are more easily able to interact personally with students.
He explained that the university is in the black under a $30 million budget, but faces a shortfall of $1.7 million.
A member of the press asked how the university had reached the 5 percent projected growth of enrollment for this year. Shepard replied that the previous year had 13 percent growth and in the previous five years, there had been a 24 percent growth in enrollment. "We built on that projection, and within the past two years have hired 24 new faculty members. This year enrollment is flat."
He said the Silver City campus has about 2,200 students, "but we looked at the projection in aggregate for all the campuses."
He explained that the base salary for a professor is an average of about $50,000 to $55,000. With benefits, office space, a computer and supplies, as well as more support staff for the recently hired faculty members, the total expense is more than $100,000 per faculty member.
Shepard said he was asked by a faculty member, at the previous meeting, if the university were getting rid of adjunct professors.
"They are the cheapest we have, but we have a limited pool of adjuncts here," Shepard said. "Because some courses we offer did not make (meaning not enough students signed up for them), we had some professors, who are supposed to carry a load of four courses a semester, teaching only three. Sometimes, more courses are needed, and we hire adjuncts."
A question was asked about contracts for tenured professors and those on the tenure track. Shepard explained that tenure protects a professor, but it does not protect programs. "If a program is eliminated, the professors go, whether tenured or not."
He also noted that Western was not unusual with a flattening of enrollment numbers. "During a recession, people come back to school, and then when the recession is over, they leave universities and look for jobs. Enrollment across the nation this year is down about a half million students among all the universities and community colleges."
Shepard in the meeting and in the news release said that one in five graduate students at Western is not funded by the state, and 24.8 percent of undergraduate students are not funded. An explanation was requested.
"In 2009, Western started a Master's program in Social Work and another Master's program in Occupational Therapy," Shepard said. "In 2012, the state changed the funding formula and used a three-year average of 2009, 2010, and 2011 as a base for a university's enrollment and programs. We were the only university hit because we did not get funded for 20 percent of our graduate students, because of the program not already being implemented before 2009."
Vice President of Financial Affairs Sherri Bays said in 2012, the economy had not rebounded, and the state was trying to save money.
"We grew, but the state wasn't funding at an increased level," Shepard said. "In 2012, the state also only gave half the funding Western had received before for dual enrollment and non-resident waivers. We actually paid back $400 to the state for every non-resident waiver we had. With the old formula we could have recouped those losses. The old formula took numbers of students at the beginning of the year, when enrollment is highest. The new formula, which is based on outcomes, takes the number of students at the end of the year."
To another question, Shepard said: "Yes, dual enrollment is safe. But the current funding formula will discourage dual enrollment, because the students are not paid for by the state. The state is looking at adding dual enrollment into the new funding formula."
Bays explained the formula is still being tweaked by the state. Shepard said the university was deficient in the base numbers for the formula, but overall is benefitting from the new formula.
He answered a press question and said Western had talked to the area legislators. "Rep. (Rodolpho 'Rudy') Martinez is supportive of trying to fix our deficiency. He's on the House Appropriations Committee. Everyone we have talked to seems to appreciate the problem, but it comes down to committee and House votes.
On another issue, Shepard said the state did a utility study among facilities of higher education. "The state wanted to know how much the state was paying for utilities versus how much the institutions spent."
Bays said the amount for all the universities in the state was set at $3.8 million. "We received only half a million dollars. We had to make up the difference."
Shepard had talked about a possible shortfall of $1.7 million in the budget. "An extra $1.7 million would get us even to next year. We have programs with only three degree-seeking students, so we need to go through this exercise anyway. We may cut a program, put it on the shelf and then in the future bring it back with new tools and new technology.
"Yes, we are monitoring our bills closely," he said in answer to a press question.
A press member asked how the faculty was reacting to the proposed cuts.
"The ones I've talked to, which are the performing professors, are very supportive and recognize the need for cuts," Shepard said. "But when we implement them, it will be different. We will use the data of average class sizes, but people will personalize it. I'm not saying tuition will not be increased. We could see another 5 percent increase for next year. Remember there are two parts-tuition and fees. Students can choose to raise their fees."
To a question about the use of technology, which may be limiting students' ability to fit into the working world, Shepard said: "We have the responsibility to turn out students who fit into the world we live in. We need to teach students to be self-reliant."
He expounded on the issue, by saying leadership, imagination and innovation are neutral. They can be negative or positive, citing as an example, Hitler as a negative leader, and Gandhi as a positive leader.
"Morality, ethics and self-reliance we need to wrestle with here and elsewhere in other institutions," Shepard said.
Arizona has five universities, three of which are branches of Arizona State Univeristy. New Mexico has 18 campuses—Eastern New Mexico University with three campuses, New Mexico State with five campuses, University of New Mexico with five campuses and Western New Mexico University with five campuses.
"New Mexico cannot afford the infrastructure it has," Shepard said. "If we don't change, we will end up a branch of another university. We have to do a university restructuring of who we are and where we are going. The budget is part of that."
He was asked whether any endowed chairs were considered. Shepard replied that any endowed chair comes with money and specifics, which may not be attainable with the income from the fund. "Once it's given as a gift, the person or company no longer has a say in what happens."
Shepard was asked if he would take a pay cut. "If furloughs are part of our solution, I will take that cut along with everyone else. When Abe (Villarreal, marketing) gets a raise from the state, I don't. My salary is market-based. But I will walk the same walk as the other employees."
He explained that several models of what could be done to eliminate the shortfall were being considered. The plan is expected in March.