Med School budget in critical condition as cuts loom

Dean Deborah Powell said the school will make targeted budget reductions rather than across-the-board program cuts.

Facing the same grim budget forecast as many University colleges, Medical School administrators met Thursday to discuss the school’s budget plans.

However, the school’s budget decisions are complicated by the research it does and the amount of public and private grants supporting that research.

Even small departmental cuts could result in less time for research, meaning fewer grant dollars flowing in. Unless cuts are made carefully, program losses could cost the school more than it saves.

Frank Cerra, Academic Health Center vice president, to whom the school’s budget proposal must be submitted Wednesday, said the balancing act between savings and productivity is “the core issue” with the Medical School’s budget.

At the same time, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell told staff the school must maintain its main mission – to train doctors. All this means school administrators are walking a financial tightrope.

Peter Mitsch, the school’s finance director, said the Medical School faces a $5.2 million shortfall from next year’s projected budget of approximately $340 million. That shortfall stems from a $3.7 million reduction in state funds and a $1.5 million increase in institutional revenue taxes, a fee the University levies.

Mitsch said although the budget shortfall is only a small portion of the Medical School’s budget, making up for it will be difficult.

“The problem is that the $5 million is spread out very broadly, and it’s only a fraction of the support of a department or a program,” Mitsch said.

The other sources of funding are tuition dollars and costs recovered through grant monies secured for research, he said.

Instead of taking small amounts of money from all the programs, Medical School administration will make targeted reductions.

“We don’t want to ‘spread the pain’ Ö equally among everybody, because that just results in mediocrity across the board,” Mitsch said.

He said targeted reductions could mean certain programs will be downsized or eliminated, and some faculty might be laid off or their positions left unfilled when vacated.

No specific decisions have been made yet, Mitsch said.

Cerra said no cuts would be made until the effect on faculty and staff, and how those cuts will impact the school’s productivity, have been analyzed.

Making targeted reductions instead of across-the-board cuts was one of three principles Powell laid out, Mitsch said.

Another principle is that core medical education programs, those producing new doctors, will be cut as little as possible. This leaves things such as graduate student, residency and physical and occupational therapy programs vulnerable.

Mitsch said the third principle was keeping tuition low. The University is already near the top of the most expensive public medical schools in the country, he said.

Cerra said the budget situation means there will be no easy decisions in the coming weeks.

“Come July 1, the state’s taking 105 million bucks out of the University. You don’t have any choice but to pay the bill,” Cerra said. “It’s all a balancing act.”

Dylan Thomas covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected]