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December 15, 2008
Volume 86, Number 50
p. 7


Schools Face Cuts

Economic downturn compels academic institutions to reduce budgets

Jyllian Kemsley

AS THE U.S. ECONOMIC recession takes hold, public and private universities alike are facing budget cuts forced by state revenue shortfalls and declining endowment values. In response, chemistry departments are freezing hiring and trimming budgets for seminars and equipment; they also may have to reduce graduate student enrollment.

Milos Dolnik/Brandeis UL
Introductory chemistry students at Brandeis will likely have to contend with aging equipment because of the economic recession.

States have been hit hard by the recession, with some reporting revenue shortfalls of billions of dollars. In South Carolina, a state budget deficit earlier this year led to a budget cut of 15% at Clemson University, with another 4% on the table now. In California, San Diego State University's budget has been reduced by about 10% this year, and another reduction looms for next year. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, is looking at a cut of 10–15% for 2009.

In the private sphere, Moody's Investors Service estimated in November that most university endowments have declined 15–30% since June. For example, Harvard University announced on Dec. 8 that it is projecting a 30% decline in the value of its endowment. Although most universities budget from a rolling three- to five-year average of endowment income to smooth highs and lows, the current losses are substantial enough that many schools are tightening belts regardless. As at public schools, endowment-dependent private institutions are generally looking at budget cuts of 10–15%. Private schools that are more dependent on tuition, such as Reed College, in Oregon, and Allegheny College, in Pennsylvania, will also be hard-hit if their enrollments drop because students can no longer afford to attend.

Chemistry department chairs contacted by C&EN do not yet know exactly how the cuts will trickle down to the department level. Stanford University, like many schools, has frozen hiring of faculty and staff, and chemistry department Chair Richard N. Zare expects that salary increases for existing employees will be minimal. Clemson has mandated a five-day furlough for all full-time employees.

To deal with increasing teaching loads for faculty as attrition reduces their ranks, San Diego State chemistry department Chair Carl J. Carrano says his department is reducing its course offerings, primarily by teaching low-enrollment courses only once per year or every other year. Other schools are taking similar approaches.

At Brandeis University, in Massachusetts, chemistry department Chair Irving R. Epstein must cut 20% from the operating budget. He says he will likely have to postpone replacing aging equipment in teaching labs and try to reduce the seminar budget by using local speakers. The school is also considering whether to cut graduate student admissions by as much as half and has put construction of new science buildings on hold.

The budget cuts come on top of what has been a particularly difficult period for federal research funding, says UW Madison chemistry Chair Robert J. Hamers. He adds that the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which handles patent royalties and typically has funds available as a short-term safety net for faculty who lose funding, has also suffered from investment losses.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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