While many University of Nebraska-Lincoln students have not seen their academic performance suffer as a result of a remote learning environment, tight budgets and reduced opportunities have impacted the administrative side of academics.
UNL’s Academic Planning Committee approves new academic programs, removes inactive programs and advises university administrators on academic budget cuts, according to APC Chair Kurt Geisinger, an educational psychology professor.
In a normal year, he said the university might see small budget reductions but usually nothing significant to the point of cutting active programs. This year, however, was anything but normal, he said.
“We went through [the programs] with a fine-tooth comb, and ultimately the university accepted our recommendations,” Geisinger said.
The only program permanently cut by the university was the hospitality, restaurant and tourism management undergraduate program in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. The intercollegiate athletics administration specialization in the College of Business was also temporarily discontinued.
Initially, the textiles, merchandising and fashion design and dance programs were also going to be part of budget cuts, but these programs were eventually saved by further review from the APC and support from donors, respectively.
Geisinger said much of the rest of the budget cuts came from more than $14.9 million in vacant positions, though around $2.6 million in filled faculty and staff positions were also cut.
Ann Tschetter, a history professor and APC member, said the pandemic was the driving force behind almost all of the APC’s tasks in the last year. She said the committee’s diverse makeup of students, faculty and staff allowed it to make decisions with multiple perspectives in mind.
“Everybody brought their own story to what was happening and kind of their own nervousness and their own expertise,” Tschetter said. “So it was really a great place in some ways to get an overall picture of how people were feeling about what was happening with the university.”
While UNL has not had to make extensive cuts to most programs, Geisinger warned the university may be affected by the pandemic for years to come. As the United States is just leaving its pandemic-fueled economic recession, he said the university will have to be conscious of families being unable to pay tuition in the coming years and consider adjusting financial aid and tuition accordingly.
Geisinger speculated that one-year positions may not be as prevalent in the coming years and certain positions may not be filled as faculty and staff retire.
“If I retire in the next year or two, I don't know if they'll fill my position,” he said.
While many sectors of research have not been affected, Geisinger said longitudinal research that takes many years to collect has been impacted, as many researchers will see abnormal variations in their data due to the pandemic.
Even though the initial rounds of coronavirus-related budget cuts have been made, the APC will continue to look at the pandemic’s impact on the academic budget. Recently, the committee proposed to delete the agricultural legal studies, leadership and Nebraska Beef Industry Scholars undergraduate programs, according to APC minutes, which are currently empty.
Despite the budget cuts, Geisinger said he thinks UNL has been a lot less impacted than other universities around the country, and he is proud of the students, faculty and staff who have weathered the past year.
“I hope they feel like we made it through a really tough situation,” Geisinger said. “We made it through when a lot of people would have fallen apart and [I hope] they feel a certain pride in doing that.”