Growth causes problems

Mai Hoang

Western needs a $42 million increase in its allowance to take care of its students, but university officials say they aren’t seeing enough support from above.

With the unlikely possibility of getting that much money from the state, university officials are looking at how they’re going to give the best to Western students despite unfunded enrollment growth.

The Board of Regents will discuss and consider a plan meant to maintain or increase academic quality and support services – a feat, considering the university has gotten almost no new state appropriations.

Provost Barbara Burch would not reveal details of the proposed plan. Among the things the regents will discuss to help maintain academic quality are hiring more faculty, examining classroom space and providing more scholarships and programs for students.

“The board is going to be looking at the overall picture, and also giving particular attention to some of the needs we have as a result of unfunded growth,” Burch said.

Burch said enrollment has grown 24.4 percent since 1998.

There has been little funding to meet the needs of those additional students, she said.

“The reason we’re having these discussions is that we want to stay out in front in terms of a university where our students get the very best,” Burch said. “We’re struggling in how we’re going to do that in the face of large, unfunded growth numbers and pretty marginal prospects in the economy right now.”

Faculty Regent Robert Dietle said he hopes the plan will include hiring more permanent, full-time faculty.

About 70 more permanent, full-time positions are needed to adequately teach the current amount of students, he said.

“We’re relying on part-time faculty,” he said. “Some part-time faculty is very good, but it’s not a very good sign when the university is filling classrooms with too many part-time faculty. You need to have tenure-track full-time faculty when possible.”

Dietle said the regents should also examine the academic departments’ operating budgets.

“Those budgets have not increased substantially for over a decade,” he said. “Think of a business trying to use the same office budget when they have more business, or in our case, students – it’s ridiculous.”

He said Western also needs to consider measures that may freeze future enrollment growth if the university doesn’t hire enough new faculty.

In 1998, before Western began its rapid enrollment growth, the student-to-faculty ratio was 16 to 1. Now it’s more like 19 to 1, which is higher than its benchmark universities, Dietle said.

Dietle said he is interested in hearing what plans the university has to curb enrollment growth woes.

President Gary Ransdell said students, faculty and staff will be notified of the new plan Friday via a campus-wide e-mail.

“This is focused on relieving pressure for our faculty and things we can do for greater student success,” he said.

Other items that will be discussed during today’s committee meetings include the approval of an associate’s degree in hospitality management, the approval of an honorary degree for national political columnist Helen Thomas, and the approval of naming several items in several university buildings.

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]