Strategic Cutting versus Trimming the Hedges

In his response to my Albuquerque Journal article last month, University of New Mexico president David Schmidly announced that UNM had “identified $6 million in cost-containment measures in developing its fiscal 2011 budget.”

The Strategic Advisory Team made a report, which included short term reductions (summarized by RGF’s Corey Davis):

Short term recommendations are as follows, preceded by estimated cost-savings:
$173,184–1% invoice discount with vendors by paying in 10 instead of 30 days from date of invoice;
$315,000–provide capital projects’ vendors with PDF instead of printed docs;
$83,000–eliminate water coolers in offices;
$198,532–obtain multiple bids for furniture acquisitions;
$1,000,000–standardize the purchase of computers through a Dell contract;
$280,000–shift printing from desktop printers (which require printer cartridges) to copier fleet;
$1,000,000–centrally purchase all Microsoft software licenses;
$500,000–identify incorrectly enrolled participants in the employer insurance plans;
$360,000–have part-time employees contribute to the ERB only when they are at least .25FTE;
$1,000,000–divert budgeted salaries for vacant positions back to the university (“Historical practice has been that some units have balanced their budgets using vacancy dollars. This will need to be addressed.” p. 15);
$20,000–reduce Academic Program Review operating budget;
$70,000–reorganize Provost’s Office;
$40,000–reduce Freshman Family Day budget;
$300,000–reduce Extended University’s Instruction & General allocation;
$269,532–reduce frequency of office cleaning;
$200,000–reduce UNM Foundation’s Instruction & General allocation.

What is interesting about this list is that it doesn’t appear to include any re-thinking of the academic programs at UNM. There appears to be no consideration of the possibility that the university could better serve New Mexicans by altering the degrees offered. Contrast this with University of Maine’s recent changes:

From a UMaine press release on May 4th:

  • Elimination of the Dept. of Public Administration
  • Suspension of the German and Latin language majors
  • Suspension of the theatre major
  • Suspension of the women’s studies major and graduate concentration in that discipline
  • Reduction of music master’s degree concentrations from five to two, retaining music education and music performance while eliminating instrumental conducting, choral conducting and collaborative piano
  • Downsizing of the Master of Arts in Teaching program
  • Downsizing of the Center for Research and Evaluation in the College of Education and Human Development
  • Consolidations in the College of Engineering, including the assignment of certain Dept. of Mechanical Engineering teaching responsibilities to faculty members in the School of Engineering Technology
  • Elimination of bachelor’s degrees in aquaculture, wood science, forest operations and forest ecosystem science, folding those fields of study into other majors in more cost-effective way.

More about UMaine’s strategic plan can be found here.

The difference between strategic cutting and just “trimming the hedges” is that strategic cutting is done with an eye towards better opportunities whereas a little trimming is about doing basically whatever has been previously decided, just a little more efficiently. If the program is generally sound, these trimmings might be the appropriate course. But, with the state’s budget crisis, a more radical re-envisioning may be in order.

In the coming days I’ll explore UNM’s budget cuts to see if they actually are substantial and realizable.