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Despite cuts, CSU committed to academic quality, says Berkman

An exclusive interview with President Berkman on CSU’s strategies to address the cuts in the budget, in our continuing series on the university’s budget gap

April 7, 2011

By Kelsey Mercurio

Last week we sat with President Berkman to talk about the school budget, the cuts, plans for efficient use of resources, future investments in advancing the school’s mission and his accomplishments in the last two years.

When President Berkman heard about the cuts that would be happening in the upcoming year he responded quickly and created a Budget TASK Force to address the fiscal challenge and recommend strategies to deal with the budget gap in a way that didn’t affect students and their needs. He seems confident that the composition of the TASK force will help the school deal with the gap in the budget through consultations with all the stakeholders.

“We have had a budget TASK force for a year now, anticipating that we were operating on fiscal borrowed time and it included deans, faculty, and administrators.” President Berkman said, “They had each of the deans, administration, and academic support units come forward with a plan on how they will meet necessary reduction.”

Each school of the university was asked to make reductions in their department which would help with the school budget cuts for the upcoming school year. Each department was given a certain target that they had to reach in order to be approved by the president.

“The reductions were not across the board reductions,” Berkman explained. “Reductions were and will continue to try and be tailored toward continuing to reflect the investments and strategic priorities.”

Berkman sounded confident that the school has a plan in place for the cuts and efficiencies in its operations that will keep CSU a vibrant and growing university.

“I think we are very ready, I’m hoping in the end, if we stay in the 12 percentile, that we will have very minimal impact and we will find efficiencies,” Berkman said. “We have decentralized Continuing Education which was costing us $250,000-$400,000.”

He explained that the division of continuing education has not been closed despite peoples perception, but decentralized. CSU still is committed to continuing education. The courses offered under the program have just been separated out to different academic units. He thinks that decentralizing continuing education and the closing of the East center has saved Cleveland State a good amount of money.

He said that the closing of the East Campus is one of the many ways the university has been trying to create efficiencies in its operations. He revealed that soon CSU will offer classes at the Brunswick Tri-C and the corporate Tri-C which will be used as satellite campuses.

The President explained that in addition to strategic cuts the university is working on finding efficiencies that will not have significant adverse impact on the lives of the students.

“Each of the schools has built into their plans certain efficiencies.” President Berkman said, “We had certain ground rules on what colleges could do. We encouraged them wherever possible to create new revenue and not just do cuts. We said we would not accept a plan that would significantly cut back on the number of courses that were offered.”

The cuts and replacement of resources will have some impact on the classes, but Berkman thinks that the effects will be minimum.

“I think some modifications in scheduling may occur,” President Berkman said, “You may see some slightly larger classes, but classes at Cleveland State are already small. The average class size is 18 so even if we went to 20 it would create a lot of savings.”

When asked that the proposals seem to suggest that the cuts are only coming from the academic side of the school’s operations, the President said that it was not true. He emphasized that the administrative side is also feeling the impact of the cuts.

“[The cuts on]the administrative sides are as large as the academic side.” President Berkman explained, “In models that we were doing were looking at an $18 million cut, about $9 million came from the administrative side and $9 million from colleges and also academic support.”

The stater has been covering this issue this whole semester and has found the academic side feels they are the ones being asked to do the most sacrifices during this time.

In the last few years CSU has taken up many big projects such as the Student Center and the Euclid Commons, but many people are wondering if the ongoing work of campus development will be affected by the budget cuts. President Berkman feels very strongly that the plans to grow the campus will still happen even after the cuts.

“We are full board in terms of that aspiration,” President Berkman explained, “We are hoping in a couple of weeks to finalize plans for housing on North campus and to have an announcement about a project we are going to do on Euclid Avenue. For us to continue to build this neighborhood is imperative.”

However, it seems that the entire administration is not on the same page on this issue. Tim Long, director of budget and financial analysis has said the state does not have the resources at this time to expand the campus for the year 11-12. [See SGA panel discussion story]

Additionally, like the investments in development of new infrastructure the president says that the cuts will not be allowed to affect the school’s commitment to quality instruction.

“I am committed that we [do] not have cuts that impact the quality and accessibility of the academic course work and academic opportunities for students.” Said Berkman, “We can’t do the cut by saying we are offering 10% fewer courses we offered last year, that’s not acceptable.”

President Berkman is now finishing his second year at Cleveland State. He was appointed the president of the school in 2009. When asked about his self-assessment of his accomplishments in the last two years he said: “Most of what I have envisioned as a strategic plan which was supposed to happen over three to four has happened in two years. The K-12 school has opened and that’s something I have said from day one that I wanted to see at the university. We got the student center and dorms finished on budget and basically on time.”

He feels that he has met goals that he had set for himself.

“We have completed an agreement for the collaboration with the medical school medical school in place. I came in and I wanted to emphasize more prominently the university in health and life science and we created an independent school in nursing and we built some new nursing labs in the nursing and education building. The university has been a more prominent player in civic life, the city, and downtown.”

When the president started working at CSU he thought he knew what he was getting into and said he was prepared for the challenge.

“Some people come into a university and find black holes they didn’t see when you were interviewing. I found the university to be where I thought it was.” President Berkman said, “I thought it was on a launching pad that hadn’t been launched yet. There are still more significant structural maintenance issues that have to be addressed more than I thought. The engineering building needs work and the PE building has issues. The older part of the campus needs attention and it’s been to long deferred so we have to focus on fortifying that part of the campus.”

The president understands that CSU is a downtown school in a metropolitan city and its role in the city life and economy is central to Cleveland’s overall well being, and he has been reaching out to city leaders.

“A pleasant surprise is the degree to which the city believes in the school and supports the school.” Said the president, “That doesn’t happen everywhere. Its like when people come around here and get a feel for what is going on they are astonished at the footprint that is growing down here.”

Many feel that the improvements in the campus infrastructure great and fine, but the school also needs to focus on student needs, and that is what the president said was his priority.

“I am very committed to really improving the success rate of our students and for eliminating the barriers that don’t allow students to be able to move as agilely through the university as they can.” President Berkman said.

When asked about his future plans in the next couple of years for the school he said he would like to focus on new opportunities for the students.

“I would like to expand significantly the Co-op opportunity. I would really like to double or triple the students who get out there and begin to build a bridge between school and the workplace while they are still in school.” President Berkman explained, “That is a positive thing about the government budget; he has allocated $20 million a year to expand Co-op opportunities.”

“I think the development of the North campus, which will ultimately have 600 beds, is a game changer. When we get that up and occupied that is a game changer.”