The state’s three university presidents gave dire forecasts Thursday to the Arizona Board of Regents in briefings on possible cuts under state funding proposals.
Presidents of the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University all said that if cuts proposed by key Republican legislators as options to a state budget crunch are instituted, whole departments and colleges will have to be eliminated.
ASU President Michael Crow said the budget reduction suggested for his university by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, calling for $70 million in proposed cuts just for the rest of the budget year ending June 30, “takes per-student funding at ASU back to the level of 1989.”
That represents a 55 percent reduction, he said.
“This is about taking great, fantastic universities that have emerged in Arizona and setting them back into regional state colleges,” Crow said.
Hundreds of students, business and community leaders turned out at the meeting in Tucson to strongly support the regents and universities and condemn the magnitude of the proposed cuts.
The message they delivered that education is front and center to the state’s future “is going to carry a lot more weight than just my saying it,” University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said.
Shelton said that the $103 million reduction in state support for the University of Arizona that the JLBC proposed for the remaining five months of the current budget year is equal to some 2,000 jobs, or half of the total jobs funded by the state.
Cuts to the university will have an impact on producing skilled workers for Arizona employers, and thus on the economic future of the state, Shelton said.
“If the JLBC proposal were to be accepted,” he said, “it would force massive layoffs, it would force the closure of departments and indeed whole colleges.”
Shelton added that it would reduce class sections and enlarge classes, delay graduation, costing students more in tuition and fees, and trigger a departure of valuable faculty and research grants.
The JLBC’s report proposing the budget cuts is “vindictive, hurtful and is more than just reducing the budget. It’s punishing particularly higher education,” said Regent Dennis DeConcini, a retired U.S. senator.
DeConcini said he hopes it was issued to focus attention on the state’s financial crisis, but fears it was done out of conviction by those who wrote it.
NAU President John Haeger said proposed, potential cuts of more than $31 million would cut deeply, requiring furlough dates for faculty, staff and administrators, layoffs and administrative cutbacks.
Haeger said they also would cut an important initiative to the state — to develop health professions programs that serve the broader state.
“I don’t really believe the state of Arizona wants us to do that,” he said.
In a statement, House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said the proposals “are a starting point for budget negotiations as we move forward this session. I will continue to work with the state’s university presidents on budget issues.”
“As we address this historic deficit it is imperative that cooler heads prevail. Overheated rhetoric is not helpful and serves to complicate what is already a difficult process,” Adams added.