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Fleming: Dire consequences in budget cuts for USM

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Feb. 19, 2001
The University of Southern Mississippi is down to "bare bones," and President Horace Fleming told The Meridian Star's editorial board if cuts go any deeper, programs and staff will be affected.
He said USM had absorbed about $1.5 million when it was told to absorb another $3.7 million for a total cut of about 5 percent from this year's operating general support budget from the state.
The cuts hit across the board  more than $1 million from 85 vacant positions and subtracting computer software for a university systems upgrade cut $600,000. Fleming said an additional $50,000 cut was made in athletics, $170,000 from technology, $75,000 from the president's office and $595,000 from instructional areas.
He said he has been told to expect $11.5 million less in funds next year than the university started with the past year. After this year's cuts, Fleming said those additional cuts will have USM officials "cutting into the quick."
Such a dire situation has led the college board to consider declaring a financial emergency.
Faculty members don't want to take a position at a college facing that kind of problem, he said. He said he would like to see legislators phase reductions in if they are going to be that large. If there isn't available money for that, he said borrowing from other state funds or creating higher education stabilization funds from which to borrow are other solutions.
Some have suggested using the situation to rid the university of "dead weight," marginal programs that aren't doing well, but that may not yield enough.
Fleming said there is no money in margin programs to begin with, which is why they're margin programs.
He said much of the attention and big money at USM is in education and polymer research. Cutting those programs could diminish quality.
Other colleges in other states such as South Carolina are asking for 25 to 40 percent tuition increases to supplement budget cuts.
He said USM's board may suggest about a 10 percent tuition increase in addition to cost-of-living room and board increases. Students currently pay a total of about $1,490 each semester.
Fleming said officials will make sure students' needs are met both incoming and those who are enrolled in various programs. He said he doesn't think students should be worried about programs being discontinued yet, but he said they should be engaged.
For now, he said USM officials are trying to reassure existing faculty to keep a positive outlook.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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