David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
How To Put Your Budget Down

April 11, 2019

As quoted way too often, T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month.  I just don't think we all realized he was much more academic than we assumed. Sure he had his erudite language, deep philosophical thought, and obscure references (with footnotes), but I have come to believe that he too must have faced the onslaught that are annual academic meetings, end-of-academic-year challenges, commencement planning, and budget hearings.

All of us go into budget hearings already juggling a number of potential initiatives and concerns that cottage industries push on us while feeding off of higher education like pilot fish. Nationally, the narratives about college, the headlines, the mandates, all of the noise surrounding the industry force us to put money in places that aren't directly related to learning.

This week, while sitting in budget hearings, I have been inundated by emails selling services offered, for a fee, to help solve the myriad of problems in higher education that go well beyond basic classroom learning.

For instance, I have been encouraged to participate in a webinar regarding ADA, student mental health, and dealing with threats.  One of the promised "participation outcomes" is "an understanding of the pros and cons of mandatory medical leaves of absence and when they should be applied. Can an institution be penalized for removing a student from campus who is deemed to be a threat to self?"

Potential lawsuits are never more than a decision away. A clearly inferior candidate for a position is suing your institution because he or she claims the decision was discriminatory. You can have all your ducks in a row in terms of documenting how the decision was made fairly, but the aggrieved continues to sue, and decisions about settling out of court, and establishing a precedence, versus pumping more money into your legal fees haunt you daily. 

Better plan to ask for more money in the line regarding legal counsel.

Secondly, all institutions are struggling to meet the needs/realities of students who are first in their families to go to college.  Late this afternoon, I had an email promising "First Gen Success" through the 2019 GlobalMind Ed Conference in Denver in June.  This innovation network apparently will have 1200 educators gathered together to address the First Gen student.  I better send at least one faculty member, probably an advisor, maybe even one of my residential life staff.  Guess I am going to go in and add a few more thousand for conference expenses.

Oops, check that. Also in this afternoon's email is a conference about equity, one of the leading "flags" in the national narrative about making sure all students have equal access to your college. Their "Disrupting Deficit Narratives Through Equity-Minded Processes" (that title is a draw, isn't it?) is luckily just a one day conference in Michigan. I can probably send a few people to that by only adding a couple of hundred to my conference budget line.

The next email asks if I am "getting the most from [my] data," with Campus Technology offering a report about "maximizing results with advanced analytics."  Goodness, we talk about that at every retention-driven conversation on campus. Better put some dollar amount in for this budget item, although I can't begin to calculate the human resources I might have to account for in terms of implementation.

Out of morbid curiosity, I check this week's spam, only to find more incredible offers that I could bring to budget hearings:

  • "Get The LMS Support You Deserve"
  • "Simple Compliance Steps To Avoid Danger"
  • "Meet Bevi, The Smart Water Cooler" (Really, offices still use water coolers?)
  • "Check Out Upcoming Live Trainings . . . Limited Seats Available" (Do I even care what the training is on?)

I am tempted to fall back on verse, but I refrain.

As I head into budget hearings, I expect to hear about typical needs, which can be as exhaustive and wide-ranging as the following (all heard in my 12+ years of attending budget hearings as a VP):

Parking Lots need resurfacing.

Classrooms need new lighting, new seats, perhaps even walls re-painted.

1/3 of the employee laptops need replacing.

Employees legitimately expect a raise.

Security is recommending additional officers at night.

Lock-Down mechanisms are needed for classrooms, again as a security measure.

Dorms need to replace couches (at West Virginia University, this may just be built in as a recurring cost).

Additional counselors are recommended because of increasing mental health issues among students.

With enrollment down, a new program is being recommended, but will require a full-time faculty member, $50,000 of equipment, and on-going accreditation costs.

More wireless hot spots need to be put in the aging classroom buildings.

The HVAC system is going on 30+ years old and major overhauling needs to begin.

Advisors would like an add-on to the student information system that will manage graduation requirements better.

I fully expect to be beaten down emotionally before the week is half over.

I am tempted to fall back on verse but I refrain.

The sad part is that I eventually just can't focus and as more and more specific requests get laid out be departments far removed from mine, I can't help but mock some of what we may legitimately need:

  • A new fly system for the theater.  Fishing or jeans, either way, I am wide open to a new fly system.
  • A center thrust, also for the theater.  With a new fly system, I would assume a center thrust is all the more applicable.
  • Snap-on Tools for the auto lab.  It makes me wonder why we have trouble attracting females to that program.
  • Gas Analyzer for the auto lab.  Set it up next to the culinary lab and get twice the bang for our buck.
  • Drupal 8 versus Drupal 7.  Not even sure where to go with this.  Can't help picturing some Huckleberry Hound type cartoon image.
  • Dick Blick Flat Files for the art studios.

With that last one, I am tempted to fall back on verse but I will refrain.