SPECIAL SERIES : SF State Budget Woes
Q&A: The Man With A Plan
Provost John Gemello opens up
April 21, 2004 1:45 PM
John Gemello, SF State provost and vice president of Academic Affairs and the university's second-highest ranking administrator, plays a major role in determining how to make the budget best fit the needs of the students, staff and faculty, and keep the school functioning in line with the university’s mission statement.
In a rare one-on-one interview the provost opened up about the budget process and the theories and intentions behind the dramatic cuts to the university.
Xpress: "What is the process for determining what programs will be cut, consolidated or reorganized?"
Gemello: "The college deans and I and the president met and talked about the potential strategies that could take place within the colleges. First of all, we’ve known we were going to have this problem for several years, so it’s not something we just came up with.
"In the last month or so we’ve accelerated the process. The deans were requested to go back and meet with their faculty and to meet with their chairs and talk with as many people as possible last week. They came back to me with proposals within their college of ... which programs they would offer for discontinuance, what other kinds of budget reductions they could make. And through that interactive process, back and forth between myself and the deans, we’ve eventually put together the plan that we got last week and sent out yesterday (Monday)."
Xpress: "What criteria is that based on (for) what programs will be cut?"
Gemello: "We will be identifying programs not because they have problems, not because there are weaknesses, not because we would be stronger without these programs. We’re going to be identifying programs because we have to cut $10 million out of our budget." We are probably going to be saying to the Academic Senate, "this program is doing a good job preparing students for jobs, we have a very high quality faculty in it. By many measures it’s a good program, but we’re still asking you to discontinue it because we just don’t have enough money, and that’s really the tragedy of the budget crises.
"We have to set some priorities, and we have to make some tough decisions about choosing amongst good things. I think that’s one of the hardest messages we have to get out there. We’re not choosing between good and bad, we’re choosing among good things.
“I think we’re trying to identify, as I said, what programs we can continue to support and get the most effective output for the students.”
Xpress: “Will people who have applied for programs in the fall such as dance or Russian be denied admission to that program even if the Academic Senate has not yet voted to discontinue it? What is the justification?”
Gemello: “Yes. If we are considering discontinuing a program in the near future, if we allow students in now, we basically have students who for the next four or five years will be trying to finish the program. And that doesn’t seem to be fair to the students and/or the faculty.
“The discontinuance policy does not speak to what happens to students in the process when your doing discontinuances, so when I met with the Academic Senate I said it doesn’t speak to that. We need to make a decision, and it seems to me that it would be best for everybody if we didn’t accept new student into these fields if we are thinking about discontinuing them. And the Senate agreed. I told them that if, for some reason, we don’t discontinue the program then they can go right ahead and accept students into the program once that decision has been made.”
Xpress: “Why have you chosen to cut deep and narrow rather than wide?”
Gemello: “We wanted the University to be as strong as possible after this budget reduction stops -- after we are finally able to stabilize. Across the board, widespread cuts sound very attractive. They are certainly easier to implement. I could probably implement them in 10 minutes because I could just say our total cut is 15 percent, so everybody’s budget is reduced by 15 percent. The problem with that is it ignores what that 15 percent means to individual departments. And so while it sounds like everybody is being treated the same, 15 percent reduction to one department might mean that department can’t provide its program at all. And 15 percent to another program might not matter much.
“What we chose to do was try to identify which programs we had to keep in the university that we wanted to be able to continue to support in the best way possible so they were strong and try to protect those. And the opposite side of it is therefore you have to identify some programs that you aren’t going to keep.”
Xpress: “Since program discontinuance takes about three years and will not immediately save money for the budget, what changes will be implemented to save money during the 2004-05 academic year?”
Gemello: “Probably what we’re going to have to do is reduce the number of classes across the campus, so probably every college, every department is going to have some reduction in classes compared to what they have had in the past.
“We might be able to do some things which you can do for a year, but you can’t do for a long period. For example, we certainly can’t run a strong and viable university without buying new structural equipment -- replacing computers, updating labs -- things like that. In the short run, we might try to cut back on that expenditure. For example, for the next year perhaps we don’t upgrade any labs because the trade off may be if you upgrade a lab you have to cancel classes.
“The idea of the long-range plan is if we’re able to implement that plan in two years then we’ll be able to get back into a balance between classroom instruction and all the things that need to be there to support the classroom instruction.”
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