Western’s Board of Trustees (BoT) met the morning of Thursday, March 24 into the early afternoon in a regular session, before entering Executive Session to discuss picking between the two remaining presidential finalists, Brad Baca, Western’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and Dr. Michelle Rogers, the Vice President for Administration at the University of Redlands in California. 

Here’s four things you should know:

One: Western slated to increase tuition for 2022-2023 academic year

Brad Baca presented to the Board on proposed tuition hikes, which were frozen last year. He noted that there is more financial uncertainty than usual this spring, which will delay financial aid packages to prospective students considering their school selection and deposits. 

Baca asked the Board of Trustees for a 2 percent tuition increase for both in-state and out-of-state students, with the 2 percent hike also applying to other student fees and costs. For in-state students, the total projected cost of a year at Western will rise a little less than $500. For out-of-state students, that number is just under $700. 

Baca noted that across campus, financial pressures are being felt as inflation and materials costs rise, including with Western’s food provider Sodexo. For students with the greatest financial need, Pell Grants and other assistance programs are expected to close the financial gaps. 

Two graduate programs, the Master’s of Environmental Management program, and the Master’s of Science in Ecology program, asked for a little more than an 8 percent tuition increase to maintain viability and program health. The graduate programs in question are both cash-funded, and as such are expected to match their own costs with tuition revenue. The increases will come out to between $700 and $800 per academic credit. 

Baca added that he will be surprised if any other Colorado colleges and universities do not utilize the full allowable increase of 2 percent. The Board passed the motion to approve the increased tuition unanimously. 

Two: Faculty gain tenure, Board discusses tenure process

Dr. Bill Niemi, Westerns’ Vice President for Academic Affairs, brought four faculty to the BoT for tenure approval, noting the faculty’s excellent instructional abilities, proficiencies, and service to the community. All four tenure requests were granted. 

Dr. Niemi noted that tenure track and tenured faculty typically undertake the lion share of campus stewardship, which includes committee leadership, as well as professional development, and mentorship work with students. Utilizing lecturers and adjunct faculty positions is more flexible for the university financially, but these instructors, as a product of their positions, are oftentimes less tied and invested to the university long-term. 

During his nine years in the role, Dr. Niemi says the percentage of tenured faculty has hovered in the 60 to 65 percent range. While the percentage of tenured faculty sat at 58 percent before the approvals, the tenure percentage is now back into the 60s following the approval of the four professors. 

Dr. Niemi noted that the tenure process, which for most professors includes five years of teaching, is quite rigorous, with extensive student and peer faculty reviews taking place regularly before the ultimate decision is made by Academic Affairs. Achieving tenure, per Dr. Niemi, is the pinnacle of many professor’s academic careers, and provides professors with both job security and academic freedom. 

At Western, professors are expected to instruct four classes per semester, at the upper end of the spectrum across academia. This standard emphasizes Western’s preference for instruction over research, and influences the type of faculty hired by the university towards those most interested in teaching. 

Congratulations to the four professors receiving tenure:

  • Dr. Jacqulyn Gabriel, Sociology
  • Professor Anders Johnson, Music
  • Dr. Salif Mahamane, Psychology
  • Dr. George Kamberelis, Education

Three: Western anticipates shortfall in 2022-2023 fiscal year

Western is finalizing its draft budgets for next year, and is projecting a shortfall of about $1.6 million dollars in the school’s Education and General Fund (E&G), which Baca says is the first he can remember seeing during his time at Western. The deficit, if approved, would require spending down Western’s E&G fund reserves, which sit at roughly $8 million presently. 

The draft budget includes a 3 percent salary increase across the board for Western faculty and staff to attempt to track with inflation, and a $600,000 pool for salaries that is intended to redress pay inequities on campus, specifically gaps relating to gender equity. 

Western has recently undergone an internal effort (also comparing Western’s pay data to that of other higher education institutions) to identify such pay inequalities, and will soon be putting out a request for proposal (RFP) for a consultant to examine and put together recommendations for a comprehensive pay structure across campus, which the university does not have currently. 

Trustee Kristen Blessman pushed Baca on the numbers he brought to the Board, asking him to come back with a balanced budget as an exercise to see what it would require. Trustee Blessman, along with several other members of the Board, noted they are uncomfortable approving a deficit budget without a clear strategic vision to get back to break-even, or achieve a surplus. 

A number of factors are in play with regards to the budget, student enrollment numbers being first and foremost. The runaway inflation environment also plays a role, as do investments and disinvestments associated with the Strategic Resource Allocation study. Baca noted that to balance out Western’s budgets without boosted enrollment, tough choices, including freezing staff and faculty pay in place, and possible cuts to programmatic spending, will likely be required.

The issue was tabled for the time being, and Baca will present updated budget information in mid-to-late April. The  Board of Trustees will discuss and finalize a vote on Western’s 2022-2023 fiscal year budget at their meeting on May 6. 

Four: Personnel changeups coming to campus

Western’s Title IX Coordinator Shelby Schuppe has officially tendered her resignation to the Board of Trustees. Dr. Abel Chavez, Vice President for Student Success and Enrollment (also departing Western in April for the Presidency at Our Lady of the Lake University) says that Western could examine a number of options to fill Schuppe’s role, including the possibility of contracting out Title IX and conduct services to an external firm. Western’s search for a Vice President for Inclusivity role, a new administrative position centered in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), continues.