Op-ed: SGA president addresses budget gap


Kiersten Riedford

Kevin Holechko is serving as SGA president for the current school year. In the role, he also serves as a representative on the Strategic Resource Allocation Committee (SRAC), a group involved in recommending strategies to DePaul’s various colleges to combat the budget gap.

The DePaulia staff is committed to providing the paper’s readers with information they need to know, while trusting the readership to reach its own conclusions on the basis of that information.


My fellow students, I would like to address the recent news surrounding the university budget, offer transparency, address misinformation being circulated and hopefully alleviate some of the concerns that have been brought before the Student Government. For the past months, DePaul’s shared governance groups: Student Government, Staff Council, Faculty Council and DePaul administration have been planning the fiscal year (FY)24 budget. Together, representatives from these groups sit on the Strategic Resource Allocation Committee (SRAC).  This is a recommending body, not a decision-making body. This committee is charged with recommending a proposed university budget for the next fiscal year based on revenue projections and expenses. The recommendations are shared with the university president who can amend them or leave them as is before sharing with the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees.   

Under President Rob, who is a major advocate of shared governance and transparency, SRAC has been more transparent than ever in the budget cycle. This year President Rob and his team opened the process to include review and comments by all academic and administrative areas. They allowed increased student representation by increasing the student voice from one person to three. Rob and his team worked to ensure colleges/schools and administrative departments had time to offer suggestions and input about the budget decision-making process.  

I am one of the SRAC members and I have spent these last six months engaging in complex conversations about how our tuition dollars are best being spent and how to address this budget gap. At my side, I have had two other students who are members of Student Government who have been able to advocate and ensure that budget cuts have the least possible effect on the quality of education and student services at DePaul. I am extremely proud of the work the committee has done and want the student body to be reassured that throughout every conversation, the top priority was always focused on the student experience.  

Now I am not going to lie to you and try to paint a picture of rainbows. DePaul is facing some challenges ahead, the projected budget gap – it is not a deficit – that we are facing is due to a number of factors. Lower enrollment in our graduate programs along with federal funding from the early half of the pandemic ending, inflation, higher operational costs and demographic decreases in college-age people. All of these factors have come together and created a substantial projected budget gap. As a result, the university has had to make decisions that may result in reductions of employees among other cost-saving measures. While we are by no means in dire financial stress, the effects of this budget gap will be felt both on the staff, faculty and administration of the university. This is where I want to begin addressing some of the misinformation that students are getting.   

First, in an effort to ensure that the student experience, in particular, your academic experiences here are not affected, the cuts in faculty expenses are being implemented over a two-year period. The units are looking at not filling vacant positions and it is estimated that six term faculty with expectation of renewal, might not be reappointed. By implementing these reductions over a two-year period, it will ensure that the student academic experience is not harmed.   

The second rumor I want to address is this idea that class sizes are going up. There is no evidence that I have seen while sitting on SRAC that would suggest class sizes will be increasing. Individual colleges are making decisions at the program levels, and if there are any increases they would likely be small and may not happen at all. If an individual department decided to combine classes next year then yes, perhaps for that one course you could see an increase in class size. However, there is no mandate from the administration requiring class sizes to increase.  

The third rumor being spread is that academic programs that serve our most marginalized communities are being directly targeted by the administration and slated to be merged or terminated. This is not accurate, and I have seen no evidence to support this. Terminating programs has to follow the university curricular process which requires faculty participation and review at multiple levels. It is not something that happens at random or during the middle of the academic quarter. When it comes to combining programs, it is only for administrative purposes. Departments may need to reduce the number of chairs or program directors. This would have no impact on the degree program, the courses offered, or the faculty who teach in the program. This would just be a restructuring for administrative cost savings. That said, I strongly encourage students to reach out to their dean and department chairs to share concerns with them and ask for information on what their college is doing. I want to make clear that there were no requests to terminate any degree programs that came through SRAC.  

Another piece of misinformation that I want to address is a rumor that 60% of DePaul’s budget is being cut. That rumor and percentage have no basis in reality, if our budget was in that bad of shape we would be having a very different conversation as a university. The real number is approximately 9.6% of the entire university budget.  

Lastly, I wanted to address the conversation regarding the allocation of money and secret accounts being hidden across the institution. There are those who believe that DePaul secretly has reserve money in place. Or that different sectors of the university, like athletics can somehow bail out the institution. The reality is, there is no extra money. There is no wand that can be waived to fix this projected budget gap, not without changes to our spending patterns. Because DePaul’s largest expense is personnel costs, in order to continue to invest in the institution, we are required to make difficult decisions. What we are experiencing at DePaul is not unique. 

I know for many students this news comes as a major shock. How could it be that several months ago we were celebrating our 125th year and now suddenly having to address a budget gap? For those who work in higher education though this conversation has been a long time coming. All across the United States, universities and colleges, public and private alike, are experiencing these budget gaps and in many cases gaps much worse than ours. I want to assure the student body that tuition increases were not used as a lever to fix this budget gap. The reality that SRAC had to face was to begin looking at reducing costs in personnel or increase tuition at a rate that would cripple more than half our student body.   

I also want to highlight that while our faculty is critically important, so too are our staff members. If there is one area of the institution that will be hit hardest by this projected budget shortfall it will be staff. I encourage the student body to be a little extra supportive of staff and faculty members these next few months. The reduction in staff expenses will take place mainly through vacancies that will not be filled as well as early retirement/voluntary separation programs that are being offered to those who qualify. This will allow those employees to leave DePaul with a little extra money and start the process of searching for another job. 

Just like the faculty, the university is hoping that through unfilled positions and the early retirement plan will save enough money that no staff members will need to be laid off. For any staff cuts that do happen, the university will begin targeting non-student service personnel. However again, I am not going to paint the picture as roses or guarantee that early retirement and non-filled positions will be enough. The situation for our staff members is precarious. Many of them are fearful that their jobs are at risk and rightfully so. The protections that are in place for our faculty are much stronger than our staff. 

The reality of the situation is that over the course of these next few months, students will have to be willing to not only be patient but also show grace to staff and faculty as we move together through this. DePaul is a resilient place, we have been around for 125 years after all. While we are experiencing these stressful moments, we are also on the verge of greatness. These budget gaps will come to an end and the conversation will change from what we have to cut to what we can grow.  

 The President’s office is hosting Design DePaul sessions, where students, faculty and staff can have a direct say in designing the future of DePaul University. The next student session is at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at the Student Center. I strongly encourage the student body to show up and make your voice heard. If you believe that defending the faculty and staff is a key part of the student experience, come to a design session and let the university know. Let them know that your college experience would not be the same if it was not for that staff member or faculty member who had a major impact on your educational experience. Having worked with President Rob and his team this past year, if there is one thing he has constantly reinforced is the notion that we cannot cut ourselves to greatness. 

In order to transform DePaul into THE national model for higher education it will require immense work. There will be speed bumps and setbacks along the way, as we all know growth isn’t always linear. What we as a university are facing is indeed a setback and a moment for us to pause and reflect. It is a moment to recommit to our Vincentian values and truly hold one another accountable when one side is not doing their part. We will emerge in a stronger position, better suited to propel us into a generation of greatness and move us one step closer to being the national model in higher education.