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'How did this happen?', Professor at Texas A&M - San Antonio says about $4 million deficit

Some faculty and staff are left with questions after learning about a shortfall in the university's budget in November.

SAN ANTONIO — A $4 million budget shortfall at Texas A&M San Antonio is creating uncertainty among some staff on campus after university leaders announced the deficit and its impact on faculty professional development during a town hall on Nov. 22.

During the nearly 50-minute meeting on campus and Zoom, University Provost Mike O’Brien took questions from staff about what caused the budget to go into the red. Nonetheless, Scott Gage left the meeting concerned and confused.

“I wish I could say more that I learned a lot that day, and unfortunately I didn’t,” said Gage, an associate professor.

Gage is employed by the university and serves as president of the Texas A&M University – San Antonio Advocacy Chapter of the Association of American University Professors (AAUP). The organization supports shared governance, academic freedoms and education of faculty rights.

“I think we’ve had a lot of violations of shared governance on our campus this fall, but I think in particular with the budget, this is a great example of what can happen when shared governance is not enacted,” said Gage.

Gage says details on what caused the deficit were not answered or addressed during the town hall. In an interview with KENS 5, the faculty senate president believes the shortfall was created by "a series of compounding causes" such as budget mistakes, enrollment trends, state-contracted tax liabilities, pandemic-related financial cuts and absence of a chief financial officer for several months into 2020.

“Our previous CFO had resigned or taken another position, and so we were in the process of hiring a new CFO. There was as an interim period where we didn’t have one,” said Faculty Senate President Dr. Joseph Simpson.

Simpson said the current CFO, Kathy Funk-Baxter, is working with the University Resources Commission to develop a plan moving forward. In the meantime, Simpson was able to get approval from University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson to restore the faculty development funds, which was originally affected as part of the budget shortfall. The fund allots $2,000 per faculty member which covers expenses tied to their department and professional development such as conference fees, transportation and IT.

“Taking that funding away from us could hurt our ability, not only as professionals in our field, but hurt our ability to be as effective and as up to date in our teaching as we could be,” said Gage.

Simpson said reserved money will cover the faculty development funds for this academic year but it’s unclear if it will be impacted again in the future.

For now, Simpson said the commission is planning several meetings this month and a budget presentation for faculty, given by the university’s chief financial officer is also expected at the beginning of the new year.

“We’ll probably do something more then, perhaps an audit. Yet, none of that is of sound footing right now.”

Gage said more transparency is needed.

“We don't know how decisions are made to allocate funding. We don't know how resources are put into, say, one area and not another. We are just largely kept in the dark about budgetary decisions. And without that, you know, without that oversight and without that accountability, then there is no accountability for administration in terms of how they manage the budget.”

In a Friday letter to staff, Texas A&M-SA President Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson was confident about the university's financial situation, saying, "enrollment continues its upward trend."

"We are in a fortunate and unique position as we tackle the pandemic, with no layoffs or furloughs in academic and administrative positions," the letter went on to say. "This is due to our collective focus on our mission, our collective strategic lens, and our commitment to always putting the needs of our students first."

The letter also stated that, in the time since the November meeting with staff, O'Brian "stepped down from his position" as provost, though he remains on staff. 

The university is currently searching for their next provost. 

The university’s student newspaper, The Mesquite was the first to report this story.