by Gabriella DePinho & Kyla Guilfoil, Senior Writer & Asst. News Editor
While Manhattan College administrators originally projected a $10 million budget deficit, administrators say that due to measures taken in the fall semester, the college is now only facing a projected $3.8 million budget deficit. This new projection, which is higher than administrators had hoped for, was communicated to community members at a college senate-sponsored open forum hosted on Feb. 22.
Vice President for finance and Chief Financial Officer, Matthew McManness, explained during the forum how and where the budget deficit has come down from the original projection of $10 million and offered a portion of the hour for questions. Though communication has improved, faculty members are still concerned about their involvement in the college’s future planning.
At the forum, McManness explained that the initial $10 million deficit largely resulted from decreased revenue in room and board. The college was able to identify $6.4 million in adjustments in salaries and benefits since the beginning of the academic year, helping to bring the projected deficit from $10 million to $3.8 million. These adjustments refer to salary reduction, suspension or retirement contribution reductions, and possible furloughs. Additionally, McManness reported that $3.6 million was identified in general operating cuts, which includes utilities costs cuts, travel conference expenses cuts, general operating fund cuts, catering cuts, and cut backs on operating capital spending.
McManness added that there was a $400,000 expense budget determined in regards to COVID-related items. These items include PPE across campus, testing sites and physical changes in classrooms such as installed plexiglass. There was also an increase in financial aid needs for both undergraduate and graduate students since the outbreak of the pandemic. Both of these expenses have contributed to the budget deficit.
In utilities spending alone, McManness reported an overall savings of $700,000, $300,000 more than was anticipated before the beginning
of the academic year. These savings are a result of closing campus from Thanksgiving until the end of January, as well as collaboration with new energy managers. McManness adds that there may be additional savings, due to negotiating contracts for both fuel oil and electricity. According to McManness, a new negotiation regarding electricity has been finalized, which will enhance utilities savings in the coming year.
In December and January, the projected budget deficit, after the cuts and adjustments were made, was approximately $2.5 million. That projected deficit increased by approximately $1.2 million due to a drop in anticipated on-campus residents. McManness reported that the registration for spring 2021 room and board had risen to 1200 students during registration last semester, but that number dropped significantly to 1074 students in January 2021.
Along with utilities savings, McManness told the forum that administrators are meeting with others to find further savings.
“We are currently working with all the deans and directors, campus leadership, supervisors, budget managers, to evaluate the general operating fund further,” said McManness. “We’ve had some really positive conversations with all the teams and I think that we’ll get close to another $1-1.5 million cut in those budgets based on early work that we’ve done, and that should be wrapped up soon. We are also going to be, at that time while we’re discussing these adjustments, we’ll be also working on next year, and refining the general operating fund for this year and then, of course next year also.”
Administration also looks towards President Biden’s proposed COVID relief plan, which is a $1.9 trillion plan, $40 million of which McManness believes will be designated for higher education.
“While we don’t know the formulas at this point, or any specific guidelines on how [the plan] would be managed, we do understand that whatever we would receive from the stimulus plan, if it’s approved, half would go to our students, and half of it would be to helping offset the COVID costs and the shortfalls in revenue that we’ve experienced,” McManness said at the forum.
The college’s administration is also relying on a larger incoming class to provide additional financial support. Since the 2021 graduating class is a smaller class compared to average Manhattan College classes, a larger incoming class would increase the college’s revenue.
“Administration has said very consistently that they are highly optimistic about the class that we are in the midst of recruiting,” Jeff Horn, a history professor and co-chair of the Faculty Welfare Committee, said. “They are highly optimistic about our possibilities of attracting a significant number of transfers and graduate students. I see no reason not to be optimistic about those things. I think we’re going to get a great class, and hopefully a large class, that would be wonderful. The notion that a large class will go a long way towards enabling the institution to recover its financial footing are entirely possible.”
While the college hopes to recruit that large class — aiming for 800 freshman students and 125 transfer students, according to McManness at the forum — the influx of tuition payments will not be seen until August. Yet, McManness hopes to reevaluate held positions, pay cuts and benefit cuts prior to that.
“We’re very carefully evaluating the current furloughs that exist, and [will] make determinations about what will happen either prior to or on July 1,” McManness said. “Our plan right now is through just compensation and retirement contribution to this current year level that we started with July 1. We’re still holding 70 to 80 positions in the budget, so we’ll be evaluating those held positions. Some of those positions we may eliminate, some of these positions we might need to fill.”
McManness also hopes to be able to restore some of the general operating fund cuts, as well as the operating capital funding support. These restorations are also dependent on the effects of the pandemic, as well as the results of the college’s enrollment strategies.
In an email to The Quadrangle, McManness said it is “too soon” to determine if there will need to be further pay and benefit cuts, but that college leadership “will focus carefully on these decisions as we move through the spring and make recommendations to the President in late May.”
Kathy Weld, a math professor and co-chair of the Faculty Welfare Committee, said, “My sense is that they want to put [benefits and full pay] back as fast as they can and they’re just trying to be prudent.”
However, there is concern that restoring cuts by July may come too early.
“With the new class, you don’t really start to see the influx of the money until August, that July is as early as could be dreamed of [for restoring pay and benefit cuts], unless the Biden stimulus provides so much greater funds than anybody could ever dream,” Horn said.
During the forum, it was made clear by McManness and Provost Steven Schreiner that the current goal is to have a full return of students to on-campus learning next year.
“We may continue with [social distancing] but I think that we would be edging towards the 100% [capacity] as opposed to the lower end of the spectrum, unless something significant happens to change that viewpoint,” McManness said during the forum.
Schreiner confirmed this goal via email to The Quadrangle.
“We are planning for a safe, full return in the fall based on the quickly increasing availability of vaccines, and decreasing number of cases and hospitalizations nationwide,” Schreiner wrote. “We are, however, ready to change plans if needed.”
Ira Gerhardt, a math professor and the chair for the Council for Faculty Affairs, is concerned about this plan for a full return, especially if faculty are not able to be part of that planning process.
“For me, the biggest conversation continues to be how the administration is stating very clearly that we are going to be back in full force in August, back on campus 100 percent, all of our classes,” Gerhardt said. “And the question is how much are faculty going to be allowed to be or invited to be included in that conversation? And that’s my concern … There are too many actual logistic issues with being back on campus that need to be addressed well in advance of registration. We have to know if we’re all going to be back but we somehow need to be social distanced. How does the math actually work on that? So there’s a lot of these really important questions that the administration should take the opportunity to bring faculty expertise into these conversations because it’s just going to benefit everybody.”
If all students were to return next fall, McManness projects that there will be 1500-1600 on-campus residents next year. The college had originally budgeted down to 1450 students for the 2020-21 academic year due to the pandemic, but that number was a bit high of a reach, as there are currently only 1074 students on campus. Reevaluations of financial aid and of the current furloughs will align with the revenue made available by room and board, class sizes and savings from previously mentioned cuts.
Concerns of improving dialogue and collaboration in planning for the future of the college are still high, seeing that one of the questions asked during the forum was about why not all of the senate members were invited to be in the Google Meet that was live streamed to other viewers. President Brennan O’Donnell apologized for “the oversight” and said that Schreiner put the invitee list together. Schreiner also apologized and said that he was under the impression it was “senate-sponsored” but not a regular senate meeting.
Senate members — and other faculty members — who were not in that Google Meet were not able to ask questions themselves, but rather had to send questions to Amy Handfield, the assistant director of the library and speaker off the senate, who asked as many of them and synthesized as many of them as she possibly could.
“I think it’s fair to say that faculty would really prefer a forum in which, in real time, they can ask questions and have them answered,” Weld said.
Horn said this concern of asking questions extends to the Faculty Welfare Committee being “informed” rather than consulted in the conversation.
“There have been additional efforts to provide information,” Horn said. “There has been not enough effort for there to be genuine engagement about what’s going on in real time. I think that they have provided more information and that’s been great. They have fulfilled their commitment to do that. Where administration could continue to improve is to make those opportunities open for true engagement over not just decisions that have been made but before decisions have been made.”
Despite the feeling that some members of the senate and faculty were excluded, Schreiner maintains that hosting the forum alone was one step in keeping the community informed.
“Our financial professionals met with each budget manager earlier in the academic year to discuss and evaluate budget cuts, with additional meetings occurring as needed throughout the year,” Schreiner wrote to The Quadrangle. “The faculty governance committee members, the College-wide Senate, and the general community have been kept abreast of the budget situations through meetings and Q&A sessions throughout the year.”
Gerhardt recognized and appreciated that Schriener regularly makes himself available for live question and answer sessions regarding academic affairs, which is one way for “true engagement” to occur. Even with this Gerahardt is concerned, from a faculty advocacy standpoint, that “when our concern in our bigger role at the college or the consequences of financial activity goes beyond academic affairs” the faculty does not have the opportunity to ask questions and engage in similar dialogue.
Gerhardt feels that planning for a fall return needs to happen sooner rather than later and he believes, like Horn and Weld, that including faculty and departmental expertise is necessary to pull off that return.
“We have this wonderful opportunity with looking into this second summer of the pandemic and the plans for next year to increase and improve the dialogue and the collaboration for making decisions for the fall and forward and I think we can’t let this opportunity go to waste,” he said.