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President Mason shared the following information about the Cabinet budget recommendations and the open comment period with faculty and staff on May 1, 2017.

As you are aware, the declining tax revenues in the state forced legislators to reduce spending at all NDUS system universities, including VCSU. The legislature has completed its work, and pending the Governor’s signature, we are now facing an 18 percent reduction for the upcoming biennium.

We have been planning for this in the last couple of months. Cabinet has completed its recommendations to achieve our budget target. The recommendations will be posted in Blackboard in the VCSU Forum by 9 a.m. today.

I do want to let you know that in last-minute legislative negotiations, additional funding was added to our appropriation. This allows us to remove the campus-wide one-day furlough from the recommendations.

The budget reductions required us to recommend the elimination of positions and programs we consider valuable. It is important to emphasize that the positions and programs being recommended are in no way a reflection on the quality of the individual or program contributions to the university. We lament the fact that we are losing valuable colleagues and services.

We are grateful for the contributions of the entire campus community. We also acknowledge the emotional toll and pain this process has had as we aimed for transparency and inclusiveness.

This past week we have had conversations with individuals who are directly impacted by the recommendations, but I understand that all of you will be impacted in some way. The comment period on the recommendations will remain open through the campus meeting on May 8 at 3:30 p.m. in the Student Center lounge.

Should you wish to have a personal conversation, I am available by appointment – drop-in times may also be available. I have dedicated the following blocks of time:

Monday, May 1 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 2 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 3 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Thursday, May 4 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. and evening hours by appointment

Friday, May 5 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Monday, May 8 10 a.m. – noon

Thank you for all your contributions, including your patience and understanding, as we move through this very difficult and challenging process. Let us continue to work together to shape this outstanding institution for the benefit of our students.

President Mason shared the following update on the prioritization and recommendation phase of the budget reduction process with faculty, staff and Student Senate leadership on March 23.

Colleagues,

On February 24, I sent an email to faculty and staff describing our way forward as we navigate the impending cuts to higher education coming out of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. As you will recall, our process, as recommended by our shared governance leaders (presidents of the faculty, staff, and student senates), involved the following steps:

• Idea Gathering — February 24-March 27

* Prioritization & Recommendations—March 28-April 28

* Recommendations & Open-Comment—May 1-9

* Decision Rollout May 10-July 1

This coming Monday signals the transition from idea gathering to prioritization. I recognize the transparency we provided has had both an upside and a downside. I also recognize that faith and courage are easier at the beginning and the end of any process—yet most critical and difficult during the middle. Thank you everyone for keeping focused on the truly important work we do every day—and as difficult as it may be—holding strong to our core values and committing ourselves to results, integrity, and positive relations in all we do.

As our idea generation comes to closure, Cabinet is preparing to vet every idea. This is an enormous task as more than 240 ideas have been submitted. Modeling our commitment to making data-informed decisions, Cabinet members are fully committed to researching every idea to the best of our ability and within the time frame. We spent a full day training on our procedure. One thing we noticed is that there are several long-term ideas that will be worthy of further exploration beyond this immediate budget process. Those ideas will also be captured and directed to current planning streams (e.g., the strategic plan, strategic enrollment plan) or may result in focused task forces. The point is that your thoughts and ideas are valued.

Between now and April 28, every idea (similar ideas will be grouped) will be researched utilizing the budget-prioritization principles as follows:
  • How much state funding will it save (for reductions) or create (for new revenue)?
  • Comments on prioritization principles as appropriate:
    • Data-informed decision-making (metrics used such as financial performance, student credit-hour production, enrollment trends, industry benchmarks for staffing ratios, accreditation standards)
    • Support of growth areas
  • Efficiencies gained through reimagining the delivery of services (e.g., shared services, contracting services, reorganizations, new models)
  • New stream of revenue
  • Potential impact on enrollment and completion
  • Alignment with mission, values, brand, SEP, presidential goals, master plan, strategic plan
  • For any position suggested for reduction, essential responsibilities will be specified, as will any necessary knowledge, competencies, or training to ensure critical operations continue without disruption.
No prioritization will occur before we have information on which to make decisions. Once vetting forms have been completed, they will be made available to faculty and staff through the Blackboard portal. Our goal is to complete this process by April 21.

During the week of April 24, anyone whose position was suggested for reduction will be contacted and updated on the status of their position prior to the presentation of the recommendations.

On May 1, we enter our next phase with presentation of the recommendations and the open-comment period.

This process is not simple. I realize this is a lot of detail, but I want you to know the comprehensive approach we are taking to a very serious matter. This is a challenging time and I appreciate the effort this community has put forth. I need everyone’s continued participation as we move forward.

We can’t control the amount of money that will be appropriated to us, but we can control how we utilize the dollars we do receive to maintain a strong, innovative university. This is what this process is all about.

Although we are moving out of the idea phase, I do want you to know that if you come up with an idea that has not been presented, please contact me, a senate president, or a member of Cabinet. Good ideas will not be excluded due to a timeline.

This institution’s success is built upon everyone’s efforts. Our current situation does not change that: in fact, it enhances the need for your continued good work. So again, let’s keep the energy positive. Let’s participate and contribute to what we need to do now. We’ll get through this, and we’ll keep doing what we do—making a difference in our students’ lives so they can make a difference in the world.

President Mason shared the following update on the budget suggestions list with faculty, staff and Student Senate leadership on March 8.

March 8, 2017

At the request of Student Senate, I’ve asked Cabinet and the shared governance leadership group (the presidents of Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and Student Senate) to change the way the Budget Suggestions List is presented to students.

That change entails a change to our current setup for the Budget Suggestions List on the VCSU Forum site in Blackboard for faculty and staff as well. The list will now be accessed in the Faculty Association and VCSU Staff organizations in Blackboard, with updates to the list appearing in these organizations on Mondays.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we fine-tune our budget process. Please continue to provide feedback on our process as well as your ideas.

President Mason shared the following message on the budget reduction process with faculty, staff and Student Senate leadership on Feb. 24.

Feb. 24, 2017

2017–19 Budget Reduction Process

Earlier in the month, in a Feb. 8 email to faculty and staff, I provided an update on our 2017–19 Budget Reduction Process, indicating that with impending cuts to higher education coming out of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, it would be good for us to begin a budget reduction process at VCSU.

I wrote: “Given the fluctuating budget signals, and noting that we will not know final decisions until April, Cabinet has determined moving forward in alignment with the targets from the appropriation bill once it hits the February 24 crossover date would best serve the campus.”

BUDGET STATUS

We now have the North Dakota Senate’s version of the higher education funding appropriation bill that gives us some idea of what the cuts may entail. That bill has now crossed over to the North Dakota House for consideration.

Typically, the House looks at the bill and makes its changes, with a conference committee comprised of members from both the Senate and House working out the details to come up with a bill satisfying both legislative bodies. Often that happens at the metaphorical 11th hour and 59th minute of the session, probably at the end of April this time around. The bill then goes to the Governor for his signature.

The appropriations bill in its current state at crossover calls for roughly an 80 percent budget for the 2017–19 biennium, based on the 2015–17 budget. Higher education institutions in the North Dakota University System had already been asked to submit a 90 percent budget (in our case, a $2.77 million reduction) at the beginning of the legislative session, so now our task at VCSU is to come up with an additional 9.4 percent, or $2.4 million, budget reduction for the biennium.

VCSU is already a lean institution; to achieve this reduction we will need to dig deep and cut programs and positions that we consider valuable. But this is the economic reality we face currently, and I’m asking for your help in gathering ideas for optimizing operations and reducing budgets.

These ideas might include finding streams of revenue from new strategic initiatives, tapping new recruitment markets, increasing our shared services, and developing public-private partnerships. Here our culture of innovation may give us a competitive advantage.

I’ve asked our shared governance leaders—the presidents of Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, and Student Senate—to review our previous budget reduction processes (those used to meet the 2015–17 budget allotments and our take on the 90 percent budget) and provide Cabinet with a recommendation for moving forward this time around.

IDEA GATHERING (February 24–March 27)

We are now ready to begin the process that the Senate presidents and Cabinet have put together. The first step involves gathering ideas and suggestions from all members of the campus community. To garner as much feedback as possible, we will use two distinct tracks for aggregating suggestions.

One is by responding to a Qualtrics survey which will be distributed via email on Monday, Feb. 27. The survey provides a way for respondents to share anonymous suggestions. Note that the survey will remain open until March 10.

The other track involves a variety of open means of communication; these are not anonymous. These include direct conversations with any of the Cabinet members or Senate presidents, and/or sharing ideas with them through the savingsideas@vcsu.edu email address. Each Cabinet member will also structure formal budget meetings within their areas to solicit saving ideas.

Regardless of which method is used to share your ideas, all suggestions will be posted, without attribution, on the VCSU Forum site under Organizations on Blackboard. The list on Blackboard will be updated on a weekly basis on Mondays through March 27.

We want to generate as many ideas as possible, but let’s remember to be both informative and respectful when making budget suggestions. Try to be specific so your suggestion will be understood clearly, but please talk about areas, programs, and positions, without citing people by name or criticizing individuals.

If you have an estimate of the cost savings to be gained through your suggestion, please provide it. Do remember that the posted suggestions are just that—suggestions, or possibilities; the suggestion list does not constitute a plan of action.

PRIORITIZATION AND RECOMMENDATIONS TIMELINE (March 28–April 28)

Although the Qualtrics survey will close March 10, savings ideas transmitted through other means will continue to be accepted through March 27.

At that point, Cabinet members (less the President) and the Senate presidents will each prioritize the comprehensive list of suggestions by March 31. Cabinet, again without the President, will then work as a group with the prioritized lists to prepare recommendations for the President and Senate presidents the week of April 17.

Personnel directly impacted by the budget recommendations will be notified the week of April 24 as a presentation with final recommendations is prepared to be shared on Blackboard the following week.

We should have a good idea where the final higher education appropriations bill stands by the end of April; Cabinet will allow for adjustments in the recommendations to accommodate any changes in our target budget figures.

PRIORITIZATION PRINCIPLES

I’ve asked Cabinet members to keep the following principles, which we used in dealing with the allotments and the 90 percent budget recommendation, in mind when prioritizing budget recommendations.
  • Commit to thinking institutionally.
  • Rely on data-informed decision-making, including financial performance, student credit-hour production (where appropriate), enrollment trends, etc.
  • Consider utilizing a different budget model as a data point. (Like most institutions, VCSU uses incremental budgeting—perhaps least suited to critically examine needs and analytically adjust previous allocations.)
  • Focus on concentration of resources to support growth areas.
  • Look for efficiencies through reimagining the delivery of services—consider shared services, contracting services, reorganizations, and new models.
  • Envision new revenue streams—enhancing our position in a changing environment by playing off our strengths and uniqueness.
  • Measure all potential strategies against the impact on enrollment and completion.
  • Align priorities with our institutional mission, values, and brand; Strategic Enrollment Planning (SEP) action plans; presidential goals; the master plan; and the strategic planning process.
PRESENTATION AND OPEN-COMMENT PERIOD (May 1–9)

Budget recommendations will be shared with the campus via Blackboard presentation beginning Monday, May 1, and an open-comment period running through May 9 will begin that same day.

I will schedule open office hours for comment as well as review comments sent to president@vcsu.edu during the open-comment period.

I will also host an open meeting for the campus community on Monday, May 8, at 3:30 p.m. (location TBD).

DECISION ROLLOUT (May 10–July 1)

Budget decisions will be included in a Campus Update meeting on Wednesday, May 10 (time and location TBD). Further update and information will continue through Hotline and all-campus email as we move toward the new fiscal year beginning July 1.

AND FINALLY

These are challenging times; there is no doubt about that. But I urge you to remain positive in the face of this adversity.

VCSU has been doing great things for quite a while, and I know that we are noticed, recognized, and valued for the good work we do together. The success we have forged together helps us, and our tough tasks are easier because of our culture of excellence.

You may be hearing how other North Dakota institutions are choosing to respond to the budget crunch, but remember that VCSU is unique and the path we take will be one of our own choosing.

Let’s keep the energy positive; let’s participate and contribute to what we need to do now. We’ll get through this, and we’ll keep doing what we do—making a difference in our students’ lives so they can make a difference in the world.