Working group forms to reduce deficit

In response to a current structural operating budget deficit of approximately $10 million, the administration has convened a Deficit Reduction Working Group comprising faculty members, staff members and students with the task of increasing efficiency and cutting campus expenses, President Christina Paxson and Provost Vicki Colvin announced in a community-wide email Wednesday.

In fiscal year 2014 the University had a budget deficit of $8.7 million, The Herald reported last month.

The group will be co-chaired by Richard Locke, director of the Watson Institute for International Studies, and Ravi Pendse P’17, chief information officer and vice president of Computing and Information Services.

The other 11 faculty members, seven staff members and three students in the working group are charged with recommending “organizational changes that will improve efficiency and reduce expenses across the institution,” Paxson and Colvin wrote.

The working group’s recommendations will attempt to find $7 million in cost savings, a value that does not cover the entirety of the deficit. “We assume there will be some revenue enhancements as well,” Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration, told The Herald.

The working group is expected to present its preliminary findings in early March and its final recommendations in late April.

The Organizational Review Committee that involved over 150 faculty members, students and staff members produced recommendations for $14 million in cost savings in 2009, Huidekoper said.

Building on the 2009 review, the new working group is expected to examine potential savings by identifying areas overlooked in the past review, as well as new cost-saving opportunities that have emerged in areas the previous review explored. These areas will not be identified until future meetings, Locke told The Herald.

The working group will also evaluate the efficiency of current faculty, staff and student ratios across academic departments and research centers, and judge whether current staffing levels are appropriate, Paxson and Colvin wrote in the email.

“We have an opportunity to take steps now to reduce our operating budget without the sharp staff reductions and cutbacks of the type that we experienced during the recent financial crisis,” they wrote.

The working group will focus on big areas of spending and whether that money is being spent efficiently, Locke said.

Huidekoper said the University’s largest expenses come from compensation, or salaries and benefits.

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the University froze hiring for almost a year and offered a voluntary retirement program, Huidekoper said.

Budget recommendation decisions will be data-driven, Locke said. “We’re going to look at data, we’re going to be principled, and we’re going to be fair,” he said.

Initiatives will “tap into the collective intelligence of the community,” Locke said. He said creating an “ideas bank,” an online tool for community members to share ideas and suggestions, could accomplish this goal.

The working group is also charged with making recommendations for increasing efficiency in purchasing, classroom and lab use, IT platforms and construction costs, Paxson and Colvin wrote.

“Our aspirations for growth hinge on the development and implementation of a sustainable financial model,” they wrote.

“We do not want to negatively impact the phenomenal quality education that Brown offers,” Pendse told The Herald.

Paxson’s strategic plan includes plans to revitalize the physical campus, expand financial aid, promote research growth and increase the size of the faculty.

But “absent any substantial change in our operations, (the budget) will become unsustainable in three to four years,” Paxson and Colvin wrote.

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