Departments Balance Student Fees, State Funds, Grants

Existing within a system that weathered an $813 million drop in state funding last year — and facing another direct $7 million cut next year — the academic departments of UCSD rely on a delicately budgeted balance between university money and grants toward research in the sciences and arts.

Control of departmental funding begins in the UC Office of the President, then trickles down to the UCSD office of Academic Affairs, individual division heads and then department heads themselves.

According to Chief Financial Officer for Academic Affairs Debbie McGraw, her office divides the university’s pool of funds — consisting of student fees, state funds and grants — between five recipients: arts and humanities, physical sciences, biological sciences, engineering and social sciences. The divisions each house individual departments — for example, arts and humanities is composed of the philosophy, literature, music, theatre and dance, visual arts, and history departments.

The size of each share varies by division and is reallocated every fiscal year. This year, Academic Affairs allocated approximately $36.4 billion among the divisions. Of this amount, about $6.1 million was allocated to the arts and humanities division, $7.4 million to social sciences, $10.2 million to engineering, $7.7 million to physical sciences and $5 million to biological sciences. 

“Every department has a permanent support budget,” McGraw said. “That means that there is a certain amount of dollars that — unless someone comes to actively cut or add to it — they can count on it every year. This is a budget that is specifically set for staff and for other support needs — telephones, supplies, supporting the class labs.”

McGraw said Academic Affairs bases its allocations on factors such as the number of faculty members in each division, the number of students enrolled in each division and the amount of outside grant support the divisions receive.

Of all the undergraduates on campus, only 9 percent have not declared a major. Thirty-six percent, on the other hand, have chosen the social-science division — the largest of the divisions, home to 342 faculty members. The arts-and-humanities division contains 276 faculty and 8 percent of undergraduates, whereas engineering has 226 faculty members and 18 percent of undergraduates. The physical-science division has 255 faculty members and 9 percent of undergraduates, whereas biological science has only 88 faculty members but 20 percent of the undergraduates.

Divisional funding is also heavily impacted by grant activity, since the science divisions are much more likely to bring in non-state funds.

Unlike the funds allocated by the university, grant money is gifted to individual faculty members or research groups who seek funding from outside sources.

Last year, as illustrated in the graph on page one, the grant activity total was only $360,000 for arts and humanities and $2.9 million for social sciences, whereas engineering received $46.1 million in grants, physical sciences received $28.5 million and biological sciences received $22.7 million.

McGraw said that another factor Academic Affairs takes into account is need — for example, the engineering department receives the most outside funding, but it also receives the most divisional funding because of the high cost of computers, software and other equipment that the arts and humanities department might not need.

“Special factors that we look at include the sciences, which have lab courses that drive certain costs, and the arts, which have performances that drive certain costs,” McGraw said. “We try to compare one against another when we figure out how much money to give or cut.”

If grants are taken into account, the amount a division receives from Academic Affairs is often an inaccurate estimation of the overall money that departments are receiving. 

“Arts and humanities has the three humanities departments — literature, history and philosophy — and they have three art departments: theater, visual arts and music,” McGraw said. “They have very complicated staffing needs to support their productions. So if you look at humanities versus arts, there’s not the same funding across the board. The humanities do have less. And they don’t have contracts and grants to manage. They don’t have costly laboratories.”

According to McGraw, once all these factors are taken into account, each division receives a fair amount of funding every year.

Once funds are allocated to the divisions, the dean of each division then evaluates similar factors — like the number of faculty members, the number of students enrolled in that division and the amount of outside grants provided — within his or her area to decide how to allocate money to individual departments.

“The departments go through a similar process: They look at workload, what needs are, how many enrollments and how many majors,” McGraw said. “They try to blend it together.”

According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Barbara Sawrey, the Office of Academic Affairs sets aside money for each department’s faculty and teaching-assistant salaries, but otherwise does not control how the divisions allocate the remaining funds.

“Academic Affairs provides funding to the departments, but it is the departments that determine how to set their own spending priorities,” Sawrey said. “We do not manage the expenditures.”

Arts and Humanities Assistant Dean Heath Fox said department allocations are very rigid, as there are certain pools of money that must be used for certain purposes, such as office supplies. To allocate the remaining money, the dean considers factors such as enrollment levels and varying numbers and requests of faculty members in each department.

Although Academic Affairs sets money aside for salaries, teaching assistants and supplies, the deans take care of more curriculum-related expenses — like paying for services such as temporary lecturers. He added that deans gauge the “need” for certain services as requested by faculty.

“We are guided by the faculty in the department and what they articulate as the need,” Fox said. “That’s the biggest factor: what support requirements the departments have. And the second biggest factor is going to be the total amount of money that’s available in different funding categories. Those are basically the two things that will guide all the funding decisions.”

McGraw said she is unsure of how academic divisions will be funded in the 2010–11 fiscal year, considering the budget cut of $7 million she said will be implemented next year.

“We’re trying to figure out how to allocate a budget cut of about $7 million dollars,” McGraw said. “Seven million is a big number, and we’re kind of looking at three years in the future. Whatever number each division gets cut, we’re going to give them time to achieve it. Still, it’s going to be a cut they’re all going to have to take.”

Readers can contact Connie Qian at [email protected].

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