Speaking to a group of community leaders Thursday morning, NAU President John Haeger summed up the university’s feeling about the state’s budget crisis.

“The universities must take a fair share of the budget cuts,” he told them. “But education is the way up and the way out.”

The proposal in a nutshell:

Legislative proposal:$141.5 million cut to the Arizona University System
NAU’s share:
$20 million to $21 million
Next steps: The state Legislature is expected to review and act on the proposal in budget hearings today. Legislative leaders say they hope to have the budget resolution passed and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer by the weekend.

Northern Arizona University could face more than $20 million in cuts to its fiscal year ’09 budget if a deal reached late Wednesday in the Legislature becomes law later this week.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved a deficit-reduction proposal that would cut the state university system by $141.5 million in FY09. It is expected that the proposal, passed during a special session, will be reviewed and acted upon by the Legislature and governor by the end of the week. The universities and the Arizona Board of Regents had submitted a plan for $100 million in cuts.

NAU President John Haeger met with campus Wednesday afternoon to discuss some of the options available to campus leadership when the ’09 budget is finalized.

Speaking before about 600 at the High Country Conference Center, Haeger said, “This is a budget issue of historic proportions with numbers continuing to change—and not for the better.”

Haeger added, however, “The Legislature is not the enemy. They have a real problem. They have to cut the budget, and every day they delay, the more they lose money.”

Haeger, whose address came prior to the announcement of a possible deal, explained several scenarios the university is considering to deal with a budget reduction, which would be on top of the $10.5 million the university already cut. The FY10 budget will be negotiated using the reduced FY09 budget as a starting point.

The scenarios to make up the cuts include possible work furloughs, program reductions, increased tuition and program fees, cutbacks at distance-learning sites and a continued “extraordinarily hard” hiring freeze.

On Tuesday, the ABOR voted to allow university presidents to adopt work furloughs if needed.

“This is a watershed moment in the history of the university,” he said. “We will look and act like a different institution.”

Task force to tackle budget deficit

The three state universities and the Arizona Board of Regents have announced the formation of a task force that will work toward solving the state’s budget crisis.

The task force, known as the Fiscal Alternative Choices Team—or FACT—includes university, legislative and private-sector economists and business leaders who will immediately begin working on options to help Arizona out of its projected $3 billion budget deficit.

The membership includes economist Mark Chopin, interim dean of The W.A. Franke College of Business, and economics professor Ron Gunderson.

Haeger said that once the ’09 budget cuts are finalized, he will send out
to campus a draft recommendation of how the cuts will be implemented, and he will conduct meetings campuswide for input.

“We don’t want to create more problems by taking hasty actions or actions that don’t need to be taken,” he said.

The president’s forum came about three hours after a press conference at the state Capitol where the three state university presidents discussed the ramifications of budget cuts. At the same time, about 2,000 students from NAU, ASU and UofA demonstrated in support of the university system.

At the press conference, Haeger pointed out that Arizona has the highest percentage of deficit of any in the nation, yet he added that the demand for a university education in Arizona is growing.

“Yes, we have to cut,” he said. “But we are trying to look at these cuts in a very surgical fashion. We are not going to cut the core mission of the institution.”

At the campus forum Haeger was challenged to tie university’s core mission only to classroom teaching and learning, when it was suggested the president cut most non-classroom operations, including campus transit, the Wall Aquatic Center, athletics, counselors and wellness activities.

“I don’t know anyone who isn’t teaching our students every day,” Haeger replied. “And that includes coaches, counselors, advisors, etc.”