Provost's September Message to the Faculty

Auburn University Interim Provost, Dr. Timothy R. BoosingerSeptember is drawing to a close and the mid-point of the semester is fast approaching. Your support of the early alert program for all core courses is very much appreciated and I encourage all of you to provide your students with early-alert grades, particularly those students who may be experiencing academic difficulty. The earlier we can connect these students with appropriate academic support services, the more we can enhance their opportunity to be successful.

In preparing my monthly message, I have decided to focus on a few closely related areas of importance to our entire campus.

Earlier this month, the Board of Trustees approved the 2013-2014 budget for Auburn University.  This billion-dollar financial plan testifies to the scale and significance of our work. It should also focus our thoughts on the financial resources and decisions necessary to fulfilling Auburn’s mission.

As we begin to see encouraging signs of recovery from the recent recession, it would be tempting for those of us in higher education to lose sight of the stubborn financial challenges created by historic reductions in state support and significant declines in federal funding for scholarly work.  Nowadays it is difficult to open a newspaper, browse a higher education newsfeed, or tune in to one of President Obama’s speeches without sensing growing public concern over the affordability, access and return on investment of higher education.

In looking ahead to Auburn’s fiscal future, it is crucial that our institution assess those factors that both drive our campus revenue and determine our allocation process amidst this new culture of decreased state support.  Most public colleges and universities will have to rely more and more on revenue from student tuition, while working hard to keep a college education affordable for American families.

Auburn’s greatest financial challenge is our increasing dependency on revenue from tuition in an environment characterized by intensifying competition for students who can afford to pay it.  Changing demographics and continuing increases in operating expenses only compound that challenge.  An Auburn degree has always been a great investment.  In order to ensure that this tradition continues and to remain true to our land-grant mission, we must assure Auburn’s ongoing financial health. 

Considerable thought has been given to how we might better support Auburn’s mission by improving our processes for acquiring and allocating resources.  Our current budget model–one that determines how much revenue is allocated each year to colleges, schools, and support units–is built on historical precedents and incremental change. This approach freezes financial decisions made years ago and limits our ability to address new challenges and opportunities.

Last spring I appointed a steering committee composed of faculty and administrators to help me study our system.  Working with an external consultant, we completed the analysis, identified weaknesses in our current budget model, and have begun to look at ways to improve how we allocate resources.  While change is needed, we are fortunate to have the time and resources to make reforms carefully and deliberately. Before launching any budget redesign process, it is critical that we focus on communication, informing and involving those affected by the budgeting process we have now or might have in the future. 

In the coming months, my intention is to meet with interested faculty and engage your thoughts, ideas, and concerns through open forums and listening sessions.  My goal is to develop a consensus for a budget model that will work for Auburn University today. I look forward to your participation as we identify, refine and plan to implement a financial model that serves Auburn’s mission in today’s financial and competitive environment.

Finally, as we implement the Strategic Plan, we are identifying new ways to enhance faculty success and strengthen Auburn’s reputation. Doing so means we must increase the institution’s visibility as a central resource for economic development in the State of Alabama. Needed are a clear point of focus for Auburn’s economic development activities and a strengthening of Auburn’s research collaborations with economic development organizations and industries across the state in order to help grow Alabama’s economy. Accordingly, earlier this month President Gogue announced that Dr. John Mason’s title is now the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Dr. Mason and his staff will be the central resource for external organizations interested in working with Auburn to advance economic initiatives. Moreover, Dr. Mason will also be cultivating partnerships to engage the economic interests of our state.

As always, thank you for all you do for Auburn University.

Last Updated: September, 2013