When the state legislature convenes in January, budgets will be set and money will be allotted. The University of Idaho has embarked upon the first phase in its most recent SBOE mandated program prioritization effort, which has been dubbed Focus for the Future.
This is, of course, a necessary step in cleaning house and ensuring all aspects of the university are fulfilling the overall mission of the institution. We accept public, taxpayer dollars and as such, we should be able to justify and explain every program that exists. If we can’t, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate its usefulness and purpose.
The program prioritization is a normal process that is common in academia, as it holds universities responsible for their actions and spending. What makes the process different from 2008 is the financial state of this institution.
State funding for higher education has decreased by $26 million since 2008, and UI has racked up $230 million in deferred maintenance costs, while facing a deficit for the second year in a row. It is more important now than ever to make every dollar count.
The university community needs to approach this prioritization process and the following changes in the spirit it is intended.
This isn’t some kind of malicious attempt on the part of the SBOE to get rid of beloved aspects of the university. It is a responsible and necessary process that needs to take place. As such, we should be able to have a dialogue about the issues facing our university with maturity and grace.
On the other hand, the administration needs to be open and honest about what is happening. For instance, the Classification and Compensation debacle that took place at the beginning of the semester left staff confused, concerned and up in arms while the university was forced to backtrack and reevaluate its process.
This time around, UI administration should take all necessary steps ahead of time to communicate clearly and in a timely manner with the UI community regarding what Focus for the Future entails and just what it will mean for the future of UI. This includes establishing forums for students to learn about what is happening and voice their opinions — much like they did in regard to changes to the Student Code of Conduct.
We need this to happen, so through this process it’s important to model the behavior every institute of higher education should exhibit — honest, open communication on the part of administration and informed dialogue on the part of the campus community.