Current as of December 3, 2010
As we all prepare to wind up another semester and get ready for a new calendar year, I want to take this opportunity to provide an update to the campus community about where we are in our Readiness Winthrop work, and what the months ahead are likely to bring our way.
First, however, I’m pleased to report to you that we will be able to welcome Owens Hall back on line when the new semester opens in January. The tremendous flexibility and understanding on the part of so many that has existed since last March’s fire has been extraordinary. Students, faculty and staff all have been inconvenienced, yet have supported each other in countless ways for the duration, so this will be an opportunity for shared celebration and appreciation of each other.
We also want to extend thanks to our York County legislators who worked to expedite state processes for rebuilding Owens, which has been so important to our having it back in service for Spring semester. Likewise, the work and dedication of Leitner Construction Company personnel, who built Owens initially and have coordinated its restoration with the same dedication, has been exceptional. They are due Winthrop’s special thanks as well.
Indeed, what has been accomplished with Owens Hall can serve as our inspiration for some other challenges that lie ahead – some of them known, and some likely still unknown and as unpredictable as the Owens fire was this time last year.
It will surprise no one that the economy in general and South Carolina’s economic health in particular are chief among those concerns. Here’s a summary of what we know and an outline of what we don’t know on that front:
What We Know -- While state revenue collections are showing signs of stability, they are stable at a lower level that does not portend well for the upcoming legislative session, when lawmakers will face an estimated $800 million to $1 billion deficit in the state budget. Higher education, K-12 and law enforcement will no longer be receiving federal stimulus funds as of June 30, and the state has made no provision for replacing those dollars. Indeed, budget watchers in Columbia believe additional appropriation reductions are headed toward public education overall – many predict an additional reduction in state support of 5 to 15 percent , in addition to loss of the stimulus funds. Clearly, these are amounts that neither can nor should be completely backfilled with tuition dollars, given the current economy’s impact on our students and families as well.
The options we have at our disposal to balance the budget remain the same. In addition to some revenue from tuition and fees, we have the prospect of revenue from increased enrollments, decreased spending from economies and efficiencies, and decreased spending on salaries through vacancy management and furloughs.
What We Don’t Know -- The federal outlook for higher education suggests less availability of federal funding support, given both the unlikelihood of additional stimulus funding and growing sentiments against allowing appropriations to be earmarked for specific programs at congressional request.
Concurrently, South Carolina state officials indicate unwillingness to tap into federal support to meet health care needs through Medicaid federal aid. With nearly a quarter of every state tax dollar being spent on Medicaid already, it is unclear whether resistance to federal funding will mean fewer services, more expense to state tax coffers, or both. Either way, the future of higher education funding in the long term and appropriation reductions in the short term will be determined in some respects by how state officials choose to address the Medicaid issue, especially given their opposition to any net tax increases.
Aside from the fiscal issues, the higher education community in South Carolina is waiting to see how Governor-elect Nikki Haley and key legislators approach higher education issues including governance and organization., transparency, and “measureables” based funding, among other issues.
This scan of the 2011 environment in which Winthrop will operate is put forth to share with you what is, in my best judgment, a precarious nationwide position for public higher education these days. We see many of these same new realities in both neighboring states and overseas as well. That, in addition to the slow economic recovery from what is now being called “the Great Recession,” makes it quite unlikely that a period of routine economic rebound will occur in the public sector in the foreseeable future. The paths ahead are uncharted, with usual reference points obscured. So, as I indicated last April, we have begun looking both inwardly and outwardly, to get a sense of our best course forward in this rapidly changing world.
Readiness Winthrop Progress Report – As you will recall, I announced last Spring we would spend time this year and next dedicated to the following tasks:
• Reviewing what we do and how we do it.
• Re-evaluating how we can do it all more effectively and efficiently, while keeping faith with the essential values that help define us.
• Reflecting upon what is key for every student to know, and how we can use emerging technologies to assist their knowing.
• Reshaping and re-organize ourselves – so that we achieve the readiness that is our goal for this process.
The trailing edge of this process will be to reduce our level of spending while retaining our dedication to quality and value.
With strong commitment from Winthrop deans and office directors across all divisions, a wide-ranging initial phase of review and re-evaluation is underway. Faculty and staff, within your individual departments and divisions, have been involved and will become more deeply involved in that work as the new semester begins, with the opportunity to bring into the process their own thoughts, reflections and ideas as part of our usual approach to Vision of Distinction planning, consultations and budget discussions. Recently, the Faculty Committee on University Priorities joined me for an extensive briefing on many of the proposals and initiatives resulting from the review so far. As always, vice presidents have the responsibility to gather, organize and present this work on behalf of their respective divisions.
Adjusting to these circumstances will not be easy, yet Winthrop can meet these challenges inspired by those who have come before us over the past 125 years and met the challenges of their respective eras. As we appreciate every year at this time, Winthrop has many traditions that endure and enrich the experiences of our modern-day students. One of those traditions is endurance, itself -- which is why I have confidence that our campus community ultimately will reach our goal of readiness for what lies ahead in 2011 and beyond.
As we count our blessings in the season ahead, let us give thanks for this tradition at Winthrop and resolve to make Winthrop’s next 125 years as worthy of celebration as the 125 years that have brought us to this anniversary. Meanwhile, continuing thanks for all you do – individually and collectively -- to make Winthrop University the special place that it is, especially in these challenging times.