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Ongoing budget problems grip debate at Student Senate

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Deb Shaffer at Student Senate. Photo by Delaney Murray.

During Wednesday’s Student Senate meeting, the biggest topic of the night was something that has long held student attention on campus: Ohio University’s ineffectual budget, and what will be done about it.

The meeting started with a presentation by Deb Shaffer, the university’s senior vice president for finance and administration, that aimed to answer Student Senate’s questions about the university’s financial situation.

During the presentation, Shaffer disclosed the university’s revenue sources, which includes state appropriations, tuition, room and board, grants and gifts. Jason Pina, vice president of student affairs, and Shaffer both acknowledged the university’s recent decline in enrollment and its decreasing student retention. 

They also cited a long-cited statistic that most state colleges in Ohio — with the exception of the University of Cincinnati — have had similar issues in recent years. Shaffer also pointed to Ohio higher education resources, such as the State Support of Instruction System (SSI), being unpredictable with the amount of funds they offer year to year. Additionally, Pina pointed to declining birth rates across the state as part of the problem. 

Both Shaffer and Pina said that the university is planning to adjust its budget to prepare for potential future decreases in enrollment on campus and to also make a greater effort in increasing its outreach to prospective students. 

In the midst of concerns that the university is inflating its administrators while making potential cuts to the faculty, Shaffer informed the senate that the university generally uses the term “administrator” to refer to anyone who is not a faculty member and not an hourly wage earner at the university, which influences the number of “administrator” labelled positions in the university.

Upon the senate’s request, Shaffer also reported on the university athletic budget. She said there is approximately $30 million in the budget, and $10 million of that is generated from the athletic department’s own revenue. The remainder comes from the university’s “unrestricted” revenue — or, revenue that is not intended for one specific purpose. The athletic budget directly funds $8 million in student aid for student athletes. 

Soon after Shaffer’s presentation, the Senate voted on two resolutions: one in support of the university’s financial decisions and one in opposition. Senators were split on how to approach concerns about the budget. 

Student Senate Vice President Alicia Lundy-Morse pointed out that many student groups like “OU Fun Facts” — which held a protest last semester opposing the university’s budget — had not reached out to the senate with their concerns at all. 

Other senators countered that this might indicate a greater issue with students not knowing what the senate is or what it does. Still, other senators had concerns about the accuracy of information many students outside of senate are currently receiving about the university’s ongoing budget changes. 

Ultimately, the senate decided to oppose the university’s decision, passing Senate Bill 1920-16.

Ramlo enjoyed seeing the discussion amongst senators, and also saw the vote as an important indicator that there needs to be more transparent information between senators and the rest of the student body. 

“What I got out of the conversation is that, as a student who attends class and everything, it’s important to have transparency,” Ramlo said. “At the end of the day, this is just a general way to see how we can best get those facts out there to the student body.” 

Student Senate Treasurer Jayden McAdams said that he was excited about the night’s debate, but knew that this discussion was just the beginning of finding a compromise on the university’s budget. 

“There’s a lot more that has to be done for everyone to be on the same page,” McAdams said. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and everyone seems more hungry to do these types of things and talk to their constituents. I see this as one domino in a domino effect, and we don’t know what the effect will be, but I’m excited.” 

In other business, the senate passed a bill encouraging the university to move major family weekends so they did not infer with religious holidays. The body also appointed a commissioner and senator to the LGBTQ+ Affairs Commission and a senator to the University Life Commission.

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