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Hoppe responds to student's questions about budget cuts

April 29, 2003

"Dr. Hoppe, I'm writing because I am having trouble understanding the increase in
tuition."

So began a letter from an Austin Peay student who wrote to Dr. Sherry Hoppe last week, expressing frustration with budget cuts as well as past and expected tuition increases.
April 29, 2003

"Dr. Hoppe, I'm writing because I am having trouble understanding the increase in
tuition."

So began a letter from an Austin Peay student who wrote to Dr. Sherry Hoppe last week, expressing frustration with budget cuts as well as past and expected tuition increases.

"There was already an increase last year. And now I've heard that there is an increase of 14 percent for fall," wrote the student. "The University just built new dorms….If the price of those dorms is going to be $2,100, and 300 students are moving over there, that means this university is going to make $1,260,000.00 in the next academic year. Yet you're still doing budget cuts."

The student also was struggling to understand faculty turnover, which she attributed to budget cuts.

"Teachers are being let go because of budget cuts," the student wrote. "Some of the BEST teachers this university has will not be returning, yet you kept some of the worst teachers I've ever had the misfortune of learning under. Just because they have tenure? Tenure doesn't make a good teacher. "

The student expressed disagreement with what she saw as inappropriate spending on the part of the University.

"I heard that the University spent $25,000 on flowers alone. Flowers. For crying out loud, we can do without some flowers.

"I just want an explanation for where the money is going," she concluded.

In response to the student's e-mail, Dr. Hoppe wrote, "I appreciate your asking questions, and I am glad to try to respond.

"First, the Tennessee Board of Regents (the governing body for six universities, 13 community colleges, and 26 technology centers) sets the tuition increase for all of the schools under its jurisdiction. Austin Peay thus has no authority to increase tuition.

"At this time the TBR has not yet voted on whether or not there will be a tuition increase and, if there is, how much it will be. The reason tuition has increased so much in recent years is that the amount of money we have received from the state has decreased because of the state's budget problems.

"The increased rate for the new residence halls is directly tied to the cost of construction and thus the debt the university has to pay off. We do not make a 'profit' on the residence halls. The new ones cost more because they have private rooms, small kitchens and other amenities not available in some of our other residence halls. The rates for the new halls are comparable to the rates for similar residence halls at other public universities in Tennessee.

"In regard to the loss of faculty: No current faculty member lost his or her job as a result of the budget cuts. It is not unusual, however, for some faculty to choose to leave and go to another institution. This happens in all universities. It has happened more often than we like recently, though, because we have not been able to pay competitive salaries due to the state's budget shortfalls. I should note that we do plan to fill at least 20-25 faculty positions that were left unfilled last year.

"I understand your concerns about losing some of our best faculty. I share those concerns. I also appreciate your comments about faculty tenure. Faculty are awarded tenure after five or six years of service if they have performed in an exemplary manner. Sometimes (but fortunately, not often), tenured faculty do not continue to perform at the highest level. Only if the faculty member demonstrates very poor quality teaching or professionalism or collegiality will he or she be subject to a process for removing tenure. That process can take three years or longer.

"I should note that one of the primary purposes of tenure is to allow faculty to teach their subjects in the way they think is best without being subject to fear of losing their job. Academic freedom is very important in a university.

"In regard to your comments about flowers: I don't know if you are aware that flowers (like other aspects of our physical facilities and grounds) are funded separately from other parts of the university. We are required to spend 100 percent of what we receive for facilities and grounds in those areas. In other words, we cannot use those funds for faculty salaries or for avoiding tuition increases.

"When you walk across campus next week, you will see many new flowers that were planted Saturday. Most were grown in our greenhouse, and they were planted by more than 400 volunteers. We simply do not have enough funds to do all we would like to do with our grounds, but we are fortunate to have people willing to donate their time each spring to assist our small landscaping crew.

P.S. We really do not have a "profit" coming in. Even though we try to operate the university like a business, we must spend every dollar we receive (from state appropriations, tuition and other sources) on providing instruction, service and activities for our students.