Reduced Student Affairs Budget Trickles Down

Absorbing $914,000 in budget cuts in the 2008-09 academic year to date, few bodies within the UC Irvine Department of Student Affairs have remained unscathed.
Five clusters comprise UCI Student Affairs, which are Counseling and Health Services, Dean of Students, Auxiliary Services, Enrollment Services and Student Housing. While some parts of these larger clusters are protected, such as the Counseling Center and the Disability Services Center, other programs are less fortunate.
“The Career Center budget has been severely impacted with the loss of over $90,000 in permanent funds,” said Kathryn Van Ness, the director of the UCI Career Center.
According to Van Ness, in addition to recent cuts, UCI requested funding returns during the 2008 summer session which have made the permanent cuts absorbed by the Career Center surpass the $100,000 mark.
Van Ness went on to state that the money allocated to the Career Center by the university only accounts for 11 staff positions, leaving the Career Center responsible for covering the remainder of its operating costs. Yet because of these cuts, the Career Center has had to eliminate two full-time professional positions, including the position of Employer Relations Manager, which Van Ness believes would have more than made up for its cost. This stems from a hiring freeze that has required most new positions to either be absorbed by other employees or eliminated when an employee leaves their position. However, Van Ness believes that such an approach lacks the elasticity needed to handle UCI’s unique budget situation.
“It seems the current California budget cuts and the severity of the national economic conditions would have required new strategies for targeted cuts based on criteria other than an across-the-board elimination of all open vacancies regardless of purpose,” Van Ness said.
However, these hiring freezes do not apply to parts of Student Affairs that are protected by pre-existing legislation. For example, according to Jan Serrantino, the director of the Disability Services Center, the services that her office provides are federally mandated. They are protected by such legislation as the American with Disabilities Amendments Act and the Rehabilitation Act. This has resulted in the Disability Services Center being able to fill positions once they are vacated rather than having other members absorb the positions or eliminate them completely.
“When we had one of my staff leave last July, I thought [about] the hiring freeze … I put in a request [to the university] to replace that person and fully expected the answer to be no and they said, ‘Oh no, you fill that position,’ ” Serrantino said.
Although Serrantino’s department remains untouched by the cuts, the larger body that it belongs to, the Dean of Students, has been affected. In the 2008-09 academic year, the Dean of Students has taken $104,000 in cuts, nearly twice the amount the last time it absorbed a major cut during the 2005-06 academic year.
Still, even for departments that are not touched directly by the cuts, ramifications continue to be felt as funding can rarely be increased. According to Serrantino, this has hindered the Disability Services Center’s ability to meet some expenses, such as providing special seating arrangements for disabled students. Such arrangements are required for students facing either lifelong disabilities or temporary issues such as lower back injuries.
“We were able to get about 20 ergonomic chairs a couple years ago at a very high price … they were about $3,000 to $5,000 each, and all but about three of those chairs have disappeared on campus … we’ve just been struggling with that. We have students that can’t sit in the classroom,” Serrantino said.
Likewise, because Serrantino had prepared for budget cuts and accommodated a lack of increase in funding, she has restructured the Disability Services Center. Because the center knew in advance about several high-needs cases, she adjusted the center’s operational cost to account for these cases.
Adjustments have included reducing the number of student assistants employed by the center from 15 to eight and also reducing their hours from about 15 to 20 hours per week to 10 to 15 hours per week. Note-takers, who have previously been paid $8 an hour to take notes for disabled students, also had their pay decreased to $25 per unit of a class. For example, instead of receiving an hourly wage, note-takers now receive a $100 stipend per quarter for a four-unit class.
Alternatively, other parts of Student Affairs inherently receive less funding from the university, which makes these cuts less directly significant. Stacey Murren, the director of the Student Center as well as Scheduling and Conference Services, noted that her departments fall under this category. Yet this is a double-edged sword, because her departments are self-supporting and/or auxiliary services that benefit from the income of others that may be more directly affected by these budget cuts.
“Unfortunately, during tough economic times many people postpone or choose not to have events. We anticipate a reduction in income, which challenges us to keep a conservative budget,” Murren said.
Although Murren cannot say for sure how the budget cuts will affect her departments, she believes it is probable that they will contribute to a loss in finances.
“We speculate that as campus departments reduce their budgets again, we will experience a decrease in revenues,” Murren said.
Similarly, though other parts of Student Affairs are not on the chopping block, there remains the continuing threat that this could change. Darlene Esparza, the director of the Center for Service in Action, addressed this concern.
“If our department, Dean of Students, is affected … then we’re affected as well, because they’re right now the ones taking the budget cuts and if they take more then we definitely [will be] affected,” Esparza said.
According to Kevin Huie, the director of the Cross-Cultural Center, which is among the Student Affairs programs taking cuts, these reductions are simply a sign of the times existing as part of a greater issue. Huie continued by stating his belief that economic concerns must be met on the national level if change is to be made.
“How the new president and leadership can move us forward in the worst economic times of most of our lives remains to be seen, but I imagine that whatever happens will be ingrained in our future history books,” Huie said.
Still, within the UCI community the true extent of these budget cuts remains to be seen.