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Budget Crunch Compels Faculty to add Responsibilities

Balancing the budget and keeping curriculum as a priority

The nationwide economic crisis has forced public universities to make significant budget cuts this year and The University of Iowa has not been excluded from this trend. Budget cuts have tightened the belts of all university programs, including the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. According to the Iowa Board of Regents, The UI must cut $23.5 million from its budget to offset the state’s $58 million cut in state aid to public schools. These cuts put a dent in the budget for the UI’s largest college, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS).

UI students currently pay for 51 percent of the school’s General Education Fund through tuition and fees. With the state providing just 40 percent of the General Education Fund, it is up to indirect cost recoveries and other sources to fill the gap. The University of Iowa Foundation is a major source of other income for the university, with development projects that bring in private and corporate donations to the college.

It all happens here The Adler Journalism Building in spring

“Alumni both for the journalism school and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences have been very loyal to us,” said Jeff Liebermann, executive director of development for the UI Foundation. “By far the dollars we raise are from graduates.”

However, it is a tough climate for giving, especially for the journalism school, “Media professions have been hit hard by this economy, so major donations are harder to make,” Liebermann said.

Donations to CLAS were down last year due to economic constraints, with the J-MC School raising just $260,000 in donations for 2009. This was a significant drop from previous years, though not unexpected. Liebermann remains optimistic, “People are giving less, but they are still giving. Charitable giving tends to rebound about a year after the economy comes back.”

What does this budget crunch mean for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication?

“Even under current budget cuts we still have great facilities and a very high standard of up keep,” said Dr. David Perlmutter, director of the J-MC School.

“Budget cuts have forced us to ask, do we need to do everything everywhere? Do we need to do everything at the same level? Should every program be funded equally? We need to make some tough decisions,” Perlmutter said, “Like a family with a decreased income, decisions need to be made on what the family needs and nobody likes to make those decisions.”

Curriculum, staff salaries, building maintenance and scholarships are just a few of the things that the school has to work the budget around.

“The greatest threat is that you need to keep hiring to move forward. But personnel is the most expensive, so fewer adjuncts and new hires are available,” Perlmutter said.

Many factors make curriculum changes difficult to predict. The journalism school always offers courses on a rotational basis, with changing curriculum from semester to semester to best-fit student needs.

“There is a balancing factor that there is a minimum of sixteen students needed to be enrolled in the class in order for it to be taught, and sometimes student input and interest doesn’t always equate with enrollment,” Perlmutter said.

Professor Judy Polumbaum says the J-MC School has actually “cut” very little in terms of program, “Now we just don’t have the luxury of being able to offer courses that might not fill,” Polumbaum said.

Course offerings are always a concern of current students, yet Perlmutter says he has never had a student come to him with their concerns or suggestions.

Perlmutter said that student course evaluations are a limited way of hearing what students think about school curriculum, and he hopes to form a student advisory to help with curriculum revisions, “I would really love it if I had a delegation of students coming to me to talk about curriculum.”

Journalism students can expect to see a decrease in courses taught by adjuncts and an increase in the number of classes that permanent faculty teach. The decreased budget makes enrollment minimums and faculty contracts prominent factors in curriculum development. However the changes in the journalism school are not damaging the school’s academic reputation, merely adding a new challenge to the goal of providing a high standard of education.

“The budget crunch compels faculty members to apply themselves even more conscientiously to even more responsibilities in order to meet the school’s curriculum needs,” Polumbaum said, “people are burning all candles at all ends — for instance, undergraduate and graduate directors used to get one course release per year, but now we are teaching a regular course load along with considerable extra administrative work. I feel really good about our faculty and the integrity of our curriculum, but we’re all pretty tired!”

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