Confusion reigns at Chico State as funding for instruction, library evaporates
Confusion and conjecture are widespread at Chico State as the fall semester wraps up. Faced with an unanticipated budget shortfall, department heads are suddenly considering cutting classes and student positions next semester. Meriam Library even is in danger. Administration, meanwhile, has yet to explain why funding is short.
Susanna Boxall is alarmed. In her third year as a philosophy and humanities lecturer at Chico State, Boxall hasn’t yet earned tenure, so she’s feared for her job since hearing from her department head just before Thanksgiving break: Due to cuts to the Academic Affairs budget, some classes that students are already enrolled in for next semester may be canceled. That’s bad news not only for students, but also for nontenured lecturers such as Boxall, who make up the majority of instructors on campus. Their jobs are most at risk.
“If my classes are cut, I could be looking at losing 50 percent of my income,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Less than two months before the start of the spring semester, Boxall doesn’t know which classes to prepare for, or whether to start looking for another job. And she isn’t alone. “Everyone is puzzled,” she said. “I don’t think anyone expected [cuts] this late in the game, when schedules have been released and everyone is enrolled.” The timing is more odd considering that, in June, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a state budget that includes an additional $97 million for the entire California State University system. “Nobody is giving us an explanation,” Boxall said. “How is it, with a budget increase, that there is no money for instruction?”
As it turns out, canceled classes are potentially just the tip of an iceberg. At an open forum on the Academic Affairs budget held Tuesday (Dec. 1) in Colusa Hall, members of the Academic Senate reported that individual departments’ budgets are unexpectedly short many thousands of dollars. Take an example provided by Jennifer Meadows, chair of the Communication Design Department: “Personally, I’ve been asking the provost for months now, ‘When are we getting our budget? What can we expect?’ … I was told to expect it to be about the same.”
But as Meadows recently discovered, her department’s budget was cut by about $125,000 compared with the spring semester last year. That’s a big hit for a small department, she said.
“I have a lot of questions—questions I can’t get answers for.”
Despite the confusion among staff, Chico State administration has remained silent. No campus-wide announcements regarding the university’s financial situation have been released; students and teachers alike have been left in the dark. Interim Provost Susan Elrod, whose office produces the campus budget, did not respond to multiple interview requests for this story.
In an email sent to members of the Academic Senate on Monday, Elrod announced that she will deliver a presentation on the Academic Affairs budget at the senate’s regular meeting on Thursday, after CN&R’s deadline. The email noted that the new budget “distributed $5.1 million more in funding this year than last year’s allocations.”
That only fueled further questions at the forum on Tuesday. “Where is the extra $5 million?” asked Paula Selvester, former chair of the Academic Senate. “What was it allocated for?”
Evidently not Meriam Library. “You could say the forecast is rather dismal,” said Joe Crotts, department chair of the library. Based on the latest figures available, Crotts said, the library’s budget is well short of expectations, jeopardizing book and periodical collections as well as student assistant salaries.
Some might question the importance of book collections for an institution that already carries more than half a million books.
“New stuff, though, isn’t in those books,” Crotts emphasized. “New stuff is in new books. It’s the same thing with periodicals—we have databases and 30,000 periodicals. New, cutting-edge stuff in any field is in the new issues, not the old ones.
“We have a nice repository, but if we don’t keep it updated, gaps occur, and once gaps occur it’s real hard to go back and fill them.”
And since the library’s staff is already short, it relies on about 50 student assistants to stay open, especially during evenings and weekends, Crotts said. Now, it appears there isn’t enough money to retain the majority of those students. “The student assistant budget is going to be severely compromised,” he said. As a result, it’s likely the library will drastically reduce operating hours next semester.
For dedicated educators like Boxall, the cuts are a troubling reflection of the university’s values. She can see defunding instruction only as a disservice to students. Class offerings are already slim—Boxall’s philosophy classes invariably have a waiting list at least 15 students long at the start of each semester—which is problematic for seniors who need to take major-specific, irregularly offered classes in order to graduate.
“It’s not just about making my life harder, that I need to figure out how to get my income back to normal,” Boxall said. “It means students aren’t getting the classes they need.”