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Interim IUP leader sharpens budget knife

| Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010

When it comes to financial belt-tightening, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Interim President David Werner has told faculty and staff that there are no sacred cows.

"Once you have a sacred cow, you have a herd of sacred cows, and the herd gets bigger and bigger," Werner said. "You should always ask if this is really necessary."

And with IUP and the rest of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools facing a budget shortfall, Werner said it's time to thin the herd.

"How we make those cuts will test our resolve and determine the future of IUP," Werner said during his welcoming message to faculty and staff. "We must focus on our priorities. Nothing — nothing — can be a sacred cow. Nothing — nothing — can be off the table."

Werner, 67, a former chancellor of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, took over as interim president on Aug. 1 after the resignation of former IUP President Tony Atwater.

Atwater left amid criticism by faculty, staff and students that he led the university without regard to their input and made detrimental financial decisions.

Werner, who had worked for much of the 2007-08 academic year at IUP as its interim provost, said that he received a warm welcome when he returned to campus. But he worries that people might expect too much.

"I cannot work miracles, but I can work hard," he said.

Werner sees his role as preparing for the arrival of the new president by solving as many problems as possible.

"I firmly believe that it is not possible for a university to stand still," he said. "We either move forward or we slide backward and we are not going to slide backward."

Much of his time has been spent reviewing IUP's budget and getting a handle on the financial picture.

Werner, who served as interim president of Mansfield University in eastern Pennsylvania, said IUP is a much larger and different institution. So he has not been quick to make any plans or changes. Rather, he's been meeting with people both on campus and off to get more acquainted.

What he knows for sure is that the financial situation is the most pressing.

Last fiscal year, the state cut PASSHE's appropriation by about $40 million. Most of that was recouped through federal stimulus money the past two years. But the stimulus money is set to disappear in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and with no plan by the state to return to previous funding levels, IUP and the other schools are bracing for a major shortfall.

"You have that revenue shortfall, and unlike many institutions that have raised tuition ... in this state, the board of governors has kept tuition increases modest," Werner said.

PASSHE raised tuition by 4.5 percent this year.

Werner said the university must look at increasing revenue by providing more online classes and a more robust summer program. But budget cuts are inevitable, and he's vowed to begin cuts this year, starting with the president's office.

"Do we duplicate things• It's a complex organization, and you need to continually monitor and look at the situation and see if you're doing things that are unnecessary and inefficient," he said.

The most important thing to Werner is to protect the academic program. But that doesn't mean every course or major should be maintained. "There could be pieces of that that no longer serve a purpose and should be phased out," he said.

Werner insists that IUP "can't be all things to all people."

But cuts should be made based on what's most important to the university's mission.

"You just can't do this by numbers all alone," he said. "Numbers are important, but they're not everything."

Werner said he's committed to engaging students, faculty, staff and community members in discussing the future.

"Part of it is showing up in the grocery store in blue jeans and seeing people in unexpected places," he said.

Werner has begun a monthly series of meetings with faculty and staff to allow them to ask questions or voice concerns.

"I am committed as well to sharing information. This is a public university, and we need to be transparent and open about what we do," he told them.

Werner said he was aware of the faculty's feud with Atwater and the no-confidence vote. But when PASSHE called to offer him the interim presidency, his only hesitation was that he was returning to a place where he had already worked and he had planned to go somewhere different.

"What I knew about IUP was it had very good people here, and from that perspective, I had no qualms about it," he said.

Susan Drummond, president of the IUP chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said she's encouraged by Werner's willingness to listen to faculty.

"When he told me there were no sacred cows, I was for the first time in a long time hopeful," Drummond said.

Werner said he probably should qualify the "sacred cows" statement.

"We're not going to cut down all the trees in the Oak Grove and sell them off for lumber," he said.

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