Academic departments adapt to budgetary constraints

As the new school year begins, concern over New York State's budget crisis calls into question how Geneseo and its academic departments will handle a stressful financial situation.

Financial cuts have prompted departments to reassess their own budget appropriations - a challenge that has been exacerbated with some internal departmental changes.

While multiple department chairs and secretaries agreed that the budget situation might seem dire, many said that this year's outlook is not nearly as bad as predicted. According to new English department chair Paul Schacht, most departments anticipated the tighter budget and planned accordingly. He said that while many departments have initiated cutbacks, the leaner budget has not caused significant harm.

Of some concern to students is the replacement of paper syllabi and handouts with electronic documents in many courses. According to biology department chair George Briggs, other significant changes for department budgets include fewer available tutors, less equipment and decreased travel stipends for conferences.

Compounding the problem, physics department chair Kurt Fletcher said that over the past five years, more students have enrolled in Geneseo's science programs than usual. These disciplines now require more faculty, labs and lab supplies, but lack the necessary funds.

According to Schacht, other departments including English have canceled low-enrolled, adjunct-taught sections this fall in an effort to save the college money.

Last year Provost Carol Long and President Christopher Dahl initiated the six "Big Ideas" task forces, one of which was charged with evaluating the benefits of switching full time students from a traditional five-course load to four classes a semester. Official plans have yet to be finalized, but according to Schacht, some believe this change could save the college money while making a student's education stronger and more focused.

While the budget has hurt the college and various departments, it has also initiated some new and creative ideas about education that, according to Schacht, are "animating the entire department."

Three new department chairpersons will have to address these challenges as they step up to new roles. Long appointed Schacht and geological sciences professor Scott Giorgis to chair the English and geological sciences departments, respectively, after the previous chairs vacated the positions. Lori Bernard of the foreign languages and literatures department has been appointed interim chair for the fall semester, replacing Rosemary McEwen, who is on sabbatical.