Texas A&M University divisions and academic colleges have been tasked with making plans to reduce their budgets by 7.5%, in case the need to make cuts arises.
No budget cuts have been formally requested by the state, A&M Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Jerry Strawser said in a Monday email to employees, but he emphasized the importance of preparing for the possibility. In his message, he said leaders anticipate challenging state budget conditions and that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will continue to affect university resources.
“I just think it’s good to plan ahead,” Strawser said in a Tuesday interview with The Eagle. “It would be fantastic if we went through this exercise, and the economy was great and we got no cuts from the state. ... But the bottom line is you always want to think about what might happen in the future and plan for it accordingly, and that’s the whole purpose of this.”
Divisions and colleges will send their plans to officials in about a month, Strawser said, and the submissions will be reviewed early in the summer. A final plan will not include the full 7.5% decrease across every unit, and Strawser said there likely will be some programs that are prioritized over others if cuts are called for.
Strawser said it is too early to give examples of what might be proposed to cut or which specific items would be prioritized in the plan, but he said teaching, research and outreach are the core of what the university does and should therefore be protected as much as possible.
But making these types of plans can be difficult with modest funding levels, Strawser said.
“One of the challenges we have is our university is administratively lean,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve got the lowest administrative cost ratio in the state of Texas. It’s about half of the state average. So we don’t have a lot of excess to start with.”
At a Brazos County Health District news conference last week, associate vice president of external affairs for A&M’s provost office Chad Wootton said while the university has not made staffing changes, some of A&M’s partners have. Chartwells, which runs dining services, and the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center have furloughed some employees, he said.
A&M implemented a flexible hiring freeze earlier in the semester, Strawser said, which means the university president must approve any new hire and decide if it is absolutely necessary to take them on at this time. Strawser said the university is not looking to save any particular amount of money with the freeze, but implemented it — as many other businesses have done — to make sure new hires are “critical to our mission.”
Strawser said Texas A&M Galveston and Texas A&M Health Science Center will conduct a similar exercise related to their budgets.
Summer enrollment for the flagship campus has increased this year, and fall numbers are currently ahead of pace from last year, Strawser said. Additionally, 10,796 students are expected to graduate with their degrees this month.
Strawser said there have been recent conversations about making plans for potential budget cuts, and the email he sent Monday confirmed the need to begin planning now in case the state mandates changes.
“Any time you have uncertainty in the economy, any time you have something that might, in our case, make students not come to campus, you’ve got to be thinking this way,” Strawser said.