Forum sheds light on budget crisis

We are all feeling the effects of the economic downturn in many areas of our lives, but you might not have realized what a profound effect this downturn has had on the University System of Georgia (USG).

While Tech students have experienced an increase in some fees this year and will almost certainly experience more, higher education is in more danger than most people realize.

The Diversity Forum had its Spring Town Hall meeting Thursday, April 9, in the Student Success Center.

The Diversity Forum is a chance for faculty, staff and students to meet and openly discuss issues faced by the Institute.

Panelists are selected to shape the discussion and answer questions knowledgeably, but all guests are encouraged to speak up as much as they would like.

The panelists Thursday were Shelly Nickel, vice chancellor of Planning and Implementation in the USG, and Rebecca Burnett, a professor from the School of Literature, Communication and Culture in the Ivan Allen College.

Also contributing significantly to the discussion was Stephanie Ray, associate dean of Student Affairs.

Burnett introduced the issues under consideration by pointing out that when costs need to be cut in an economy, many people think the answer is to cut costs in all areas equally, but that we must remember that all areas are not equal.

Burnett ranks education and safety as two extremely important areas of our economy which should not be cut but very often are.

Burnett went on to quote Deborah Gist, commissioner of education in Rhode Island, who said, “Nothing is more important for the economy than educating citizens.”

While many people would agree this is true, USG still suffered a budget cut of around $245 million dollars, roughly the equivalent of the money needed to run the twelve smallest colleges in the system.

The areas most affected by these budget cuts are student services and diversity programs, which are extremely important in influencing the quality of life that students experience, as well as helping with retention and graduation rates.

Nickel began her discussion by emphasizing that Tech is significantly more diverse than many of the USG institutions. Forty percent of Tech students are from another state, and many of these are from other countries.

This means that diversity programs and programs targeting minority students are of the utmost importance here, while they may not be as relevant at rural, less diverse institutions.

Other services, such as the Office of Student Integrity suffer from budget cuts and are able to handle cases less efficiently, creating inconveniences for students and faculty alike.

Above all, less funding for student services has a negative impact on graduation and retention rates, which could ultimately affect Tech’s prestigious rankings in a negative way.

Like other areas on campus, SGA must rethink fund allocations when forming their budget for the 2010 fiscal year.

Tier 3 organizations on campus, which include cultural and diversity clubs, religious and spiritual groups and other small organizations, can expect a 50% budget cut.

A member of ResNet spoke up to point out that ResNet employees experienced pay cuts of 50%, and have 1 million dollars worth of unusable equipment that is making it difficult to maintain an internet connection second only to the Pentagon in speed.

The hypothetical plan of merging Tech with Georgia State or an HBCU was addressed, but appears to be an unsupported idea of many taxpayers.

It was pointed out that people who are not insiders to this institution do not realize the impact this suggested merging will have on the two schools.

While Tech and these others schools are located only minutes apart, geographic location is all these schools have in common.

“Mission differentiation is important for higher education. You chose Georgia Tech over Georgia State for a reason,” Nickel said.

A surprise visit from Institute President G. P. “Bud” Peterson set the minds of the audience at ease when considering the issue of the economy’s impact on Tech.

“We are in a reasonably good economic situation here given the economic situation in Georgia as a whole,” Peterson said.

He went on to elaborate on the respect the Georgia legislature has for our institution, and for higher education overall.

When asked what we could do to help the economic future of our institution, he replied that we can educate ourselves about economics and know what the policies regarding education are.