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Runte addresses university's response to state budget cuts

Proposal for mid-year tuition increase to go before Board of Visitors committee Oct. 21

Speaking to a packed room of faculty and staff Wednesday morning, President Roseann Runte shared the news about how Old Dominion will be affected by the state budget cuts.

And while it wasn't all bad news - ODU's percentage of cuts is less than that for most other Virginia state colleges and universities - Runte said there will be layoffs and program cuts here.

The full extent of these measures won't be known until Tuesday, Oct. 22, however, the day after the president meets with the Board of Visitors' executive committee to propose a mid-year tuition increase as a means to soften the blow to the university.

"I hope the board will agree that a tuition increase is the proper thing to do," Runte said. "We would obviously try to make the tuition increase as modest as possible, because we also want to be sure we don't lose students over this, and that we don't make life more difficult for them than it already is."

Should a tuition increase be approved, part of the new money generated will be set aside for student financial aid "so that those who are really hit by this and are needy will be covered," Runte added.

In his televised address the evening of Oct. 15, Gov. Mark R. Warner announced that cuts in state financial support to state colleges and universities would range from 9 to 13 percent. For Old Dominion, this year's cut will be 10 percent, or $7.63 million, and next year's cut will amount to 11.9 percent, or $9 million. Runte pointed out that the cut to the university's 2002-03 base budget will hurt the most because the fiscal year is already well under way.

Runte said that layoffs will be impossible to avoid since 80 percent of the university's budget is devoted to personnel. Employees who are being laid off will be told on Oct. 22 by their supervisors, she said.

Glenda Humphreys, director of human resources, announced at the meeting that her department will offer a half-day briefing session the following day for employees who lose their jobs. The session will cover such issues as placement options, severance benefits for eligible employees and career transition assistance.

Classified and hourly employees who are laid off will receive a two-week notice.

Runte noted that furloughs (days off without pay) have been considered, but she said she does not favor this as a cost-saving measure.

"Furloughs give us money only once, and these are ongoing cuts [we're facing]," she said. "We need to find permanent fixes. Furloughs are not off the table - we all might still end up having to take a day off in order to get enough cash this year - but we're going to try to avoid that if possible."

In response to a question at the meeting, Runte said she was told by a staff member from the governor's office that Old Dominion would "probably not" be subject to more cuts in December, adding that she is hopeful the university will not have to have a second round of layoffs that month.

In dealing with the budget cuts, Runte said the first goal of university officials was to protect the academic mission by providing services to students, and that the second goal was to protect employees to the extent possible.

"We have tried to cut the colleges the least," she said.

Still, students will be facing larger - and fewer - classes in some cases.

"We hope that students will be able to graduate on time. We're going to do the very best we can to make sure the students aren't badly affected. That's one of the reasons we're talking about a tuition increase, because if we increase the tuition, then we can do more for the students ...."

She conceded, however, "Everything can't be exactly as it was."

Runte noted that a committee is currently working on plans for a new interdisciplinary course for all first-year students, which she described as "a shared academic experience" and example of one means to save money on the academic side.

She encouraged the campus community to become "more entrepreneurial and more open to new ideas and ways of doing things."

"If you have ideas about how things could be done better, don't hesitate - tell somebody, tell me.

"We need to think of ways we can do our jobs more economically and better. Are there things that can be combined? Are there things we can do to achieve savings, because if we can achieve further savings, then we can put back more of the things we want to have that we're having to do without right now."

Runte said she does expect the economy to rebound in two years, and that the light on the horizon can be made brighter by voting "yes" on the higher education bond referendum Nov. 5.

In the meantime, she encouraged the campus community to pull together and push forward.

To view a video of the Oct. 16 meeting click on www.lions.odu.edu/org/ats/mgtv/live_events/townhall021016/townhall.smi.

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