Uncertainty will factor into the University of Tennessee’s budget planning process this spring, according to a presentation delivered at the UT Knoxville advisory board’s inaugural meeting Friday.
Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis, interim system president Randy Boyd, outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and board members discussed campus needs and received a preview of the university’s $1.2 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The bulk of the budget pie, $705 million, is planned for the university’s general needs, which include teaching and student services. That slice also includes landscaping and maintenance, library services, and public outreach, according to UT Senior Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Chris Cimino.
Less than a quarter of the budget proposal - $257 million – is designated “restricted.” That’s money that can be spent only in specific ways, such as research grants and scholarships, Cimino explained.
UT’s budget process is underway and is expected to wrap up in late April. Davis stressed the numbers presented Friday are far from final. The biggest unknown, he said, is Governor-elect Bill Lee and his priorities for higher education spending.
“We don’t know what the state’s appetite for the budget will be,“ Davis told board members. “There are a lot of uncertainties for us between now and May. Do we have enough information to know what the state is actually going to provide?”
Davis predicted a two percent tuition increase for the fall, on par with the past two years.
Board member Tim Williams generated discussion when he asked whether the advisory board is expected to dispense its services all the time, or only when asked.
The state law that created the advisory board, the UT FOCUS Act, says the board does its job “as may be requested” by university leaders. Davis said he interpreted that phrase to mean just what it says: upon request.
“If we don’t get a request, [then] we have nothing to do, do we?” Williams asked.
Not necessarily, Davis replied. The advisory board can submit recommendations or observations. In fact, faculty representative Louis Gross said, the UT FOCUS Act requires the board to give recommendations on the budget to the UT Knoxville chancellor and the Board of Trustees.
Interim University of Tennessee system president Randy Boyd said his conversations with other leaders within the UT system fell along similar lines. “[UT System] chancellors are eager to get your advice,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to refuse your advice.”
There may be times when the board may make recommendations that diverge from what the chancellor thinks or wants. Davis, the current chancellor, says he thinks that’s not a problem.
“My gut reaction is, it’ll end up depending on the chancellor. And the smarter the chancellor, the more they’ll welcome the input,” Gov. Haslam said.
The board’s next meeting will likely last longer than Friday’s two-hour introductory session, and is expected to focus on the budget.