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Fiscal Health | Washington State University

College of Veterinary Medicine response

President Schulz recently sent out two communications about the budget issues facing WSU. In follow up, I am writing to give some perspective on our college from my point of view.

First, the President’s communications may make this seem like a new problem. It is not. He is thankfully being transparent about the ongoing financial picture at WSU and so is communicating more about the difficulties WSU faces. However, we all have been
scaling back and reducing expenditures for more than a year because of these very same issues.

Second, we need to further reduce expenditures this year and/or raise revenues. The latter has happened to some extent because of our mix of DVM students from contract and WICHE states and tuition increases. Even so, we still must reduce expenditures. Fortunately, none of the CVM budget is being taken away from us. This is unlike last year when, in addition to expenditure reductions, we also had 5% (~$1.2M) of our budget reallocated permanently, and we had another one-time payment of $327,000 to the university as our share of a settlement against the State of Washington. We need to reduce expenditures again this year, but we do not have to give the money saved back to the university.

Third, I appreciate that for us all, this is not easy. Things are very tight, and will remain so. Some positions that come vacant this year will go unfilled for both faculty and staff – just like last year – and we will continue to look at reorganizing some functions to be more efficient or downsize selectively through internal reallocation. Please also know, this is a multi-year issue for both WSU as a whole, and for us in the college. We will all feel the effects of budget restrictions for at least two more years, barring unforeseen revenue enhancements.

We (WSU and the college taken together) must reduce expenditures because we are spending more money than we have due to a variety of factors. In our college, this situation is mostly due to very aggressively hiring faculty and staff over the past six years. This hiring was in part to build core functions for our DVM education program, such as the Teaching Academy, Simulation Center, Pullman-based Shelter Medicine, better support of Diagnostic Challenges, more electives, and VTH services in Behavior, Emergency/Critical Care, and Rehab, to name a few. In addition, we invested significantly in VTH staff over the past few years to help improve business functions and handle increased caseload (e.g., 50% increase in companion animal accessions in the past 4 years); the latter greatly helps our teaching program.

In some cases we hired new faculty ahead of anticipated retirements to try to maintain our research productivity, incurring not only extra salary expense, but added startup expense with limited university ability to help us cover those costs because of structural changes in how the state funds the university. On the positive side, although the changes are uneven across the college we have 18 more faculty than we did 5 years ago. It is a too flippant to say that “we’ll be fine” because we are indeed scaling back. But, we are better off overall as a college than we were several years ago in the depths of the “Great Recession”, even after scaling back our ambitions to fit the budget realities. As hard as this will be, I think it is important to keep that perspective.

I came around to the departments last year to discuss these budget issues, and you may remember that I mapped out a multi-year course of reducing expenditures and pulling out of our accumulated deficit. What I showed then was a multi-year plan to account for the 5% reallocation, other one-time issues, and expense reductions need last year, then continue in the future to reduce expenses to the point we had no annual deficit, and finally erase our cumulate deficit. The further out we project into the future, the more uncertain those projections, but I still am projecting us on roughly that same fiscal time course. This doesn’t change the fact that we are in a multi-year period of constrained budget – but I think it is important for you to know that the college is in not too much different a position this year than I had projected for you last year.

Summary of possible impacts

Please know, I feel it is important to be as open with you as possible in sharing what impacts may occur. Notice, I said, “may,” because right now it is difficult, if not impossible to forecast, specifics.

  • We will likely scale back time-slip positions. How much and when is unknown at this time.
  • No plan is being formulated for across the board actions, but some positions may be lost through selective, strategic reorganization. Who, where, and what classifications are also unknown at this time.
  • There will be no out-of-cycle pay increases except for selected instances in which we can make the case that it is critical to do so to retain certain faculty members.
  • There is a “near hiring freeze” in place; our unit leaders must be able to document to me that a program will fail if a vacant position is not filled. Note that “program failure” is a high bar.
  • On January 1, 2018, AP staff and faculty will receive a 1% across-the-board pay increase approved by the legislature. As always, however, we must self fund part of such pay increases because the State does not provide funding for increasing the salaries that we fund out of revenue. This adds pressure to our budget.
  • For faculty and AP staff planning to retire in two to three years, I will consider, on a case by case basis, an incentive to retire earlier; I can make no promises, because each situation is unique. However, if interested, you should contact your chair or supervisor to initiate a discussion.

Bottom line

We are dealing with a very constrained budget for the second consecutive year; things are very tight, as they were last year, and as they will be for the next 2-3 years, and we must continue to reduce expenditures. When I get a little more clarity in projecting what this year looks like, I plan to come around again to your departments to provide an update, similar to what I did last year.

In closing, I want to point out that in spite of needing to scale back our ambitions, our college, thanks to you all, will continue to offer:

  • an exceptional DVM education,
  • excellent undergraduate programs that engage many students in research,
  • the best team of veterinary specialty services in the state and region,
  • innovative, high impact, and growing research programs that also support our graduate program,
  • and effective stakeholder and constituent engagement and service.

Thank you for all you do.

Bryan Slinker, Dean
College of Veterinary Medicine