Town hall meeting talks Program Prioritization, state budget

Lisa Freeman
Lisa Freeman

Reports from NIU’s Program Prioritization Task Forces will go online around 3 p.m. Monday, May 2.

After that, speakers at the Wednesday afternoon town hall meeting urged repeatedly, comes the need for feedback.

“Feedback is not window-dressing. Feedback, collaborative analysis and discussion is important to inform recommendations and decisions, and we do that on this campus all the time,” said Lisa Freeman, executive vice president and provost.

“It’s the way we make important decisions on this campus,” Freeman added, “and it’s the way we’re going to make decisions about how we use the Program Prioritization recommendations, the subsequent feedback and the action plans.”

The reports will place each and every university program, academic and administrative, in one of five categories:

  • Candidate for enhanced resources
  • Continue with no change in resources
  • Continue with reduced resources
  • Requires transformation
  • Subject to additional review; candidate for phase-out

Due Monday, May 23, the submitted feedback will provide an additional resource to the vice presidents and division leaders who are creating action plans for NIU President Doug Baker and members of his cabinet.

People who choose to voice their reactions to the reports can do so anonymously or sign their names, said Carolinda Douglass, facilitator of the Program Prioritization Coordinating Team and vice provost for Academic Planning and Development.

“We really do want to hear your comments about the process and about the results of the process,” said George Slotsve, co-chair of the Academic Task Force and an associate professor in the Department of Economics.

No “snap decisions” have or will be made, Freeman said, adding that feedback, collaborative analysis and discussion will inform final recommendations.

NIU President Doug Baker
NIU President Doug Baker

Baker told the audience in the Regency Room, as well as those watching online, that he appreciates the “inclusive, broad and deep process” that will allow data-informed, strategic decision-making to align NIU’s budget to its mission.

Doing so will better serve students, faculty, staff and the region while positioning NIU as an institution that is stronger and more innovative with a more sustainable academic and financial model.

“I’m really proud of this university. Let’s think about what we’ve been doing for a year-and-a-half,” Baker said. “We knew that we wanted to spend our money on the right stuff, and we knew we didn’t have a great process in place to spend our money on the right stuff and figure out how to get it there.”

Actions related to final program prioritization recommendations could be initiated in Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1, and will continue over the next four to five years and beyond.

Established curricular and shared governance processes will be respected as changes are implemented. Data-informed decision making will continue to be encouraged and supported as changes are implemented and progress is assessed.

In other town hall news, Baker announced his creation of a cabinet-level working group that will serve as an Executive Budget Committee.

“We’ve been doing good work the last two years to build a new budget and budget process, but we’ve got more work to do,” Baker said. “I felt like I really needed to have a team focused on that, and not just focused on trying to figure out how to deal with this crisis – but how we have the right budgets and processes as we go forward.”

Members of the formal advisory group are:

  • Alan Phillips, VP for Administration and Finance (co-chair)
  • Lisa Freeman, Executive VP and Provost (co-chair)
  • Jerry Blazey, Interim VP for the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships
  • Brett Coryell, VP for Information Technology
  • Mike Mann, AVP for State and Government Relations and Board Liaison
Alan Phillips
Alan Phillips

Baker expects the group to help create and implement a multi-year budget timeline and process that directly links the university mission and its budget, including both revenue enhancements and expenses.

They also will encourage responsibility for budget development and execution at the levels of departments, colleges and divisions, and ensure that the process is transparent, fiscally responsible, accountable and academically responsive.

The president’s announcement comes only days after Illinois lawmakers in Springfield approved a “short-term, stopgap” funding package for higher education that will provide NIU with $26.4 million in operating funds and $9.7 million in MAP grant funding.

NIU is “still short about $70 million,” said Phillips, adding that he anticipates legislators will approve a FY17 budget before the end of May: “I don’t think anybody in Springfield wants to go through this again next year.”

While the stop-gap funding “isn’t everything we need, it certainly helps,” Phillips added.

“It does not put us in a position where we can start just spending money again. We’re still going to have to be very careful about what we spend,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re still not talking about layoffs and furloughs. We will be able to get through this.”

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