The Dixie State University Budget Office is in the process of making its budget plans more transparent and accessible for the DSU community.
Bryant Flake, executive director of planning and budget, said the reason the Budget Office is making the budget more transparent is because of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities‘ accreditation report.
The NWCCU is a private non-profit corporation, which is recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation to accredit postsecondary institutions. In an interview the NWCCU conducted at DSU, faculty and staff found the budget isn’t transparent enough.
Flake said there wasn’t a reason the budget wasn’t as transparent in the past and that he always maintained transparency if someone wanted to speak to him about the budget. Flake said the initial version of the plan will be on the website by the end of June, and he will be updating it regularly until the new budget begins in July 2022.
There will be a central location on the Budget Office’s website for anyone to see what decisions were made and how DSU spends its budget, Flake said.
“The plan now is to have a budget roadmap that will show the requests that have come forward,” Flake said. “It will be updated over the course of the cycle to reflect both changes in the requests and then also to show the financial decisions that have been made.”
Shantelle Owens, director of the academic budget, said the process of how the budget’s spending is decided will stay the same.
The process for handling the budget in academics specifically starts with a five-year stacking plan, which is a list of all requests by faculty and staff, as well as operating budget requests, Owens said.
Owens said she then meets with department chairs and deans to discuss what the priorities for the colleges are, which then leads to a meeting with Provost Michael Lacourse, who then decides what the top priorities for academics are. After the list compiled by the provost and academic affairs is completed, it is then brought to President Richard “Biff” Williams’ cabinet, where it is finalized.
Owens said DSU doesn’t always have the resources to fill the wants and needs of every department and college. DSU doesn’t get to choose its budget; the money it receives from the state is chosen by the Legislature, so the Budget Office has to work with what it is given.
“Across campus, we get between $20 to $30 million in requests, and we may have as much as $2 to $3 million to distribute,” Owens said. “We can’t fund all the requests, but we try to do what we can; we also recognize that we don’t have the means to make everyone happy.”
Bill Christensen, business professor and Faculty Senate president, said he doesn’t believe the reason for this change is just because faculty felt the budget wasn’t already transparent. He said it might be because faculty or staff wanted to see what the budget was being spent on since they may not have gotten what they wanted.
“In my view, when people were saying that the budget needs more transparency, I think they were really doing it in a roundabout way that they don’t get what they want and they don’t know why,” Christensen said. “I guess that is a transparency issue, but the fact is not everyone is going to get what they want.”
Christensen said the problem truly stems from the lack of money that schools get from the state. He said the Legislature doesn’t view schools as necessary to spend on, which causes these kinds of difficulties and conflicts where no one is satisfied. Christensen said this is an ongoing frustration because education is viewed as an expense instead of an investment.
“Education, in my view, should not be considered an expense; education is really a public investment,” Christensen said. “Even when times are bad, it’s like, you don’t stop putting money in your 401K, you have to keep up the investment. Education is an investment that should be used wisely.”
Christensen said with more money put into higher education from the state, there will be more possibilities for people to get degrees, which would mean they would be getting better jobs. With better jobs, they would be able to pay more taxes, so in many ways, the state would be making more money if they invested more into colleges, he said.
The process to create more transparency so faculty, staff and even students can see how the money the school gets is being spent is still a work in progress. Owens said she hopes this will help faculty and staff feel more heard by the administration and understand more of the process, as well as the restrictions brought about by the budget.
“We’re trying to make it so it’s more out in the open, and so that people feel like they have a voice in the budget process, and that we are responsive to their voices,” Owens said.