Some freshmen entering the University of Arizona this fall expecting to plunge straight into a heady academic environment will have to take certain required courses through Pima Community College--if they can get into basic classes at all.
The Arizona Legislature, finding more moths than dollars in its pockets, is imposing severe cuts on the UA budget. The school's top administrators, including President Peter Likins, alerted campus employees on May 9 that they anticipated up to a 9 percent cut across the board, about 5 percent of which would be permanent. Exact percentages may vary from one department to another.
Without final figures from the Legislature, no one is quite sure yet how many more notches to punch into the budgetary belt. Randy Richardson, vice president for undergraduate education, is preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.
"We don't feel like we're in a crisis," he said last week. "We will be taking cuts next year, and we've already taken cuts this year. But even with those cuts we expect the instructional needs of the students to be one of our highest priorities. Still, you have to wonder how we can take a 10 percent cut without consequences; there definitely will be consequences to our educational mission."
One of those consequences could be not wedging all 6,000 incoming freshmen into basic English, math, science and foreign-language classes taught by UA personnel.
Early this month, the UA sent non-renewal notices to more than 200 adjunct instructors. With 200 fewer people in the teaching pool, classes will get a little larger but many sections won't be offered at all, even though admissions are being kept at about the same level as last fall.
"We would have hired two to six more people; right now we can't cover all the classes we hope to offer in the fall," said math professor Ted Laetsch.
Things look even worse in the English department, which a year ago had to hire 24 adjunct instructors to cover its fall courses. With no anticipated drop in student enrollment, only 25 sections of English 100 will be offered this fall, compared to last autumn's 37, and only 54 sections of English 101 are scheduled, compared to last year's 155, according to figures posted on the UA's computerized registration system.
Class sizes will now be capped at 23 students for English 100 and 25 for 101, one more than last year. But that still leaves hundreds of freshmen with nobody to teach them how to write the standard five-paragraph essay.
According to UA administrators and professors, a couple of strategies that might seem logical just wouldn't work. One is cutting enrollment. "A cut in enrollment is equivalent to a cut in budget," said Richardson. "We also feel a commitment to serve the higher educational needs of the state, and becoming smaller would mean lessening access to higher education in Arizona."
Students from out of state cover all the costs of their education through tuition and fees, which this fall will be $5,557 for 12 units, up 7.5 percent from last fall. Resident tuition, on the other hand, supports only 20 to 24 percent of those students' education costs, according to varying estimates around campus. Arizona students will pay $1,297 for 12 units this fall, compared to last year's $1,245. The tuition hike will hardly boost the UA's coffers; expenses are rising while state funding drops.
And what about having tenured professors take up the slack left by the absent adjuncts?
"Our tenured faculty are quite busy teaching higher-level courses, so we'd have to cancel many higher-level courses if we wanted them to teach many lower-level courses," explained the math department's Laetsch. "And it wouldn't make sense for tenured faculty to teach something like college algebra when we need them to teach the higher-level courses."
"One of the commitments we've made in the freshman classes is to small class size," said Richardson. "The best example is math, where the classes have 35 students or less. So if we asked regular faculty to teach 6,000 freshmen in 30-student classes, that means one in every five faculty members on campus should be teaching college algebra, and the math department does not have one in five of all faculty in this institution. The same is true in English; you couldn't possibly have enough faculty to teach that."
Richardson is typical of UA administrators, crossing his fingers and hoping that the budget cuts won't be as drastic as some fear, even though the Legislature is still finding billion-dollar holes in its pocketbook. He, Likins and others believe that some of the adjuncts can be rehired once the budget is set.
That budget uncertainty, though, is making the faculty even more cantankerous than usual. An advisory panel to the humanities dean scolded the administration for the cold tone of the adjuncts' non-renewal notices. Usually mild-mannered history department head Richard Cosgrove is said to have stormed into the office of Provost George Davis and dressed him down for what turned out to be mistakenly drastic cuts in his area. Department representatives working with the freshman orientation program privately complain that Admissions Director Lori Goldman won't tell them what she intends to do about students who can't be fit into required entry-level courses. Goldman did not return repeated phone requests for comment.
Richardson is more forthcoming. He's optimistic, but a bit vague on details until an actual budget is set. "We're trying to promise the incoming class that they can have the number of units it takes to be a full-time student, which is 12," he said. "We're trying to guarantee that. Some students may have to delay taking some required course; we hope not, but that is one possible outcome. They may choose to catch up by taking a class in the summer or at Pima Community College."
Pima College itself has already cut its budget 5 percent this past year, and anticipates a cut of at least that much next year. As a result, tuition there has increased from $36.50 to $39 per credit hour. Even so, PCC officials seem not to dread a deluge of UA students.
"We're ready and welcoming," said Nancy Sorenson, PCC's registrar. "We're going to be working more closely in that regard with the U of A than we ever have, so we will assist them in providing the courses they can't cover with the loss of their adjuncts. We'll offer sections either on our campus or at the U of A to make it seamless for the students."
Meanwhile, people at the UA are trying to be good sports in a rigged game. "We understand these are hard times, and we'll get in line and take our cuts," Richardson said.
But patience is running low.
"The math department needs to have more permanent funding so it doesn't have to go from year to year trying to figure out how many people it can hire and not knowing that until the end of the summer," said Laetsch, echoing a longstanding complaint in other departments. "But this year the problem is much deeper than that, in that the money is just not there. I don't know what the solution could be except growing the economy and having a more educationally responsive legislature."
"What the Legislature has to understand is that as the economy recovers, restoring education has to be a high priority," said Richardson. "The lifetime earning potential of someone who completes a baccalaureate degree is hundreds of thousands of dollars higher than for someone who doesn't, so it's not just the university and the students that benefit from this; the state and the economy benefit from it in the long run."
Of course, it could be hard for people to realize that if they have trouble enrolling in college algebra.