ASU President Michael Crow has directed the university to prepare to shutter its Polytechnic campus in east Mesa as higher education faces hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts.
|ASU President Michael Crow discusses possible closure of Polytechnic campus due to proposed budget cuts. Interview by Ryan Gabrielson.|
Republican budget leaders in the state Legislature last week produced a list of drastic cuts across Arizona’s government that could be enacted to eliminate an estimated $3 billion shortfall this fiscal year and next.
The reductions might include $314 million from the three public universities, 30 percent of their state money. Arizona State University’s share of that would approach $150 million.
Those dollars are the primary funding source for general instruction and maintenance and operations at ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
“We could eliminate the nursing school, the journalism school, the law school and the engineering school and still not meet these cuts,” Crow said. “It’s hard for people to understand the scale.”
So university officials are now determining where to shed roughly 2,500 employees and how to close one of its fastest growing campuses.
The polytechnic campus — with its adjoining airport — is the planned centerpiece of east Mesa’s future economic development.
For ASU, the campus has become a sort of higher education laboratory. Polytechnic’s academic programs provide more hands-on training than traditional lecture-based classes. Further, they link different disciplines together and break down the walls that divide fields.
The applied science school, for example, helps the education program train math and science teachers.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, crafted the list of cuts with Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa and chairman of the Senate appropriations committee. Pearce could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Pearce lobbied for $103 million to build classrooms, laboratories, student living and faculty offices at the polytechnic campus.
Polytechnic opened under the name ASU East in 1996 three years after Williams Air Force Base closed, leaving a square mile of unused land. Enrollment at the campus has tripled this decade and is poised to surpass 10,000 students.
Kavanagh, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said the universities need not panic. The list of possible budget cuts is not a final proposal, he said, and is likely to shrink if the federal government provides Arizona a generous stimulus package in the coming weeks.
The size of the budget cuts now being discussed is “contingent on us taking every single cut and nobody intends to do that,” Kavanagh said.
Jan Brewer, Arizona’s secretary of state and incoming governor, has not yet taken a position regarding higher education budget cuts, said Chuck Coughlin, a member of Brewer’s transition team.
ASU has already eliminated $60.3 million in spending during the past year. Crow said the university is willing to do more, just not more than a hundred-million-dollar loss.
“We’re going to work to inform and educate and resist by every means necessary,” Crow said. “And we’re also going to begin planning for cuts of this magnitude.”
The possible cuts total more than a quarter of all state funding for the universities, but Kavanagh argued that is a misleading number. The funding loss would only account for 10 percent of the universities’ total budgets, which include billions of dollars for research. Those dollars, however, rarely reach the classroom as the federal government and private firms mandate their funds go toward very specific programs.