Office of the Executive Vice

The musical theatre program in the College of Fine Arts is being put on hiatus because of budget cuts from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Brant Pope, Department of Theatre and Dance department chair, sent an email to faculty and musical theatre students in November to announce the decision. The program will no longer recruit incoming students, but students currently enrolled will continue in the program until graduation.

Pope said in an email that the cuts are coming from the provost's office because the office requires the department to self-fund merit salary increases for professors. The money to fund these salary increases requires cuts to programs — such as the musical theatre program.

“I think the impact on the musical theatre students will depend on what resources the Department of Theatre and Dance allocates to their program of study over the next three-and-a-half years,” musical theatre lecturer Lyn Koenning said in an email. “Words can't really express the depth of my disappointment.”

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost has required the department to cut its budget by $400,000 over the last five years, with $80,000 in cuts this year, according to Pope. These budget reductions had previously resulted in a loss of 25 graduate TA and AI positions, a reduction in faculty positions, and the master's acting and dance programs ending recruitment in 2012, Pope said.

“I am very discouraged and exhausted from these relentless budget reductions and many of my senior faculty have protested these devastating losses we have suffered for the sole purpose of funding merit salary increases,” Pope said in an email.

Like the master's acting and dance programs, the musical theatre program is being put on hiatus, which Pope says is different than removing them. 

“I do not have the power to end or cut or remove or eliminate programs,” Pope said. “Rather, if I cannot fund them because of budget cuts, I put them on hiatus. Hiatus means we do not recruit students into these programs in the present budget circumstances.”

According to Pope, cutting the musical theatre program is negative for the department because it is an increasingly popular form of theater with a variety of career outlets.

“The Music Theatre program was chosen because it is still a young and small program and most importantly because it is an exceptionally expensive program to support,” Pope said.

Deans from all colleges and schools meet with members of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost every year to discuss a five-year budget plan. In light of a $92 million cut to higher education from state appropriations for the next two years, deans and department chairs have been laying employees off and cutting back on administrative and some student services for the past year and a half. These cuts have impacted every department, college and school at UT. The Daily Texan sat down with Daniel Slesnick, a vice provost for resource management, to discuss the future budget plans and current implications of the budget cut.

The Daily Texan: What is the process called and how many deans have you met with?
Daniel Slesnik: About 5 deans. Each of the units [at UT] have to prepare a [Deans/Provost Academic Core] document. It’s an annual process, which starts at the end of the fiscal year. It’s a preparation for the next fiscal year. We tell the deans we want a five-year budget, and then we give them a basic parameter. [This year] we told them they are not getting any money from the provost office. Any new initiatives are going to have to be self-financed.

DT: How were the meetings different this time?
DS: Any ramifications of a [$92 million state cut] is going to be for this 2011-12 year. There were two sets of cuts. The initial 5 percent cut, $15 million, came from the vice president side. The second round cut $17 million from schools and colleges and the remaining $13 million came from the administration.

DT: Where did you see most reductions happening?
DS: Well, it was very different depending on the financial circumstances of the deans. In some cases, it would be they have reserves they would allocate. One of the key parameters for this was that they had to maintain their current teaching loads prior to the budget cut. You had to offer the same level of instructional services. Reducing instruction was not on the table.

DT: What can we expect for the next biennium?
DS: For the next five years, we are looking at a flat budget. We are not saving any money, it’s just reallocation. As far as actual cuts, the only cuts made were the $92 million — which is over a biennium.

DT: Which college or school has taken the greatest hit?
DS: It was not one size fits all. There were adjustments across different colleges and schools. They are going to do less of this activity or that activity. There were some colleges that were more financially strapped. Different colleges and schools have managed their budgets in different ways. So, when [the recession hit in 2008], not everyone was in the same place.

DT: Is UT looking at revenues to increase funds?
DS: So a budget guy always assumes the most conservative projections. We are assuming a flat budget. The most difficult is to provide health insurance to our employees. Despite the fact of not having [any funds] other than a flat budget, we still have to fund these fringe benefits. So the answer to your question, no. I don’t see any obvious sources of revenue going forward.

DT: How are students likely going to be impacted?
DS: We will see what the next year brings. That’s when a lot of these cuts are going to be implemented. These are difficult financial circumstances, and [we] are trying to minimize the impact on students.

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Vice provost discusses Deans' budget proposals.