STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Closing Penn State branch campuses to help address a potential 50 percent cut in state funding would strike a devastating blow to communities integrally tied to the fortunes of the university, school president Graham Spanier said.
While shutting down campuses remains an option as Penn State awaits the outcome of budget negotiations in Harrisburg, Spanier sounded averse to following through on such a scenario when asked about it in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.
"It depends on the size of the cut, whether we would have to cross that line. But I'm very reluctant to do it because it would be devastating for the region and the communities," Spanier said. "I've never wanted to go in that direction, but it would be irresponsible to say that we didn't look at it."
Penn State and 17 other Pennsylvania universities face unprecedented cuts in state appropriations in the $27.3 billion budget proposed last month by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
To address an estimated $4 billion recession-driven deficit, Corbett has proposed a budget plan that would not raise taxes and would cut more than $1.6 billion from schools and universities. It would include a 50 percent cut to the 14 universities that make up the State System of Higher Education, as well as Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.
The plan has drawn protests around the state from students, faculty and administrators alike. Penn State specifically faces a loss of 52 percent of its state revenue, or about $182 million, under Corbett's plan. Spanier has said the university is considering all contingencies to close the gap, including layoffs and tuition hikes.
"Our new governor inherited a huge problem. I'm very sympathetic of that," Spanier said in the interview at his office in the Old Main administration building. "I just never imagined that Penn State would be asked to take a cut at the level we have."
Spanier has already said about 440 people could be laid off in the College of Agricultural Sciences, including extension services, if the current proposal goes through. The university lists 1,250 full-time faculty and staff employed with the college, but it's unclear if that number includes the extension.
A few smaller program cuts have already been instituted, as well as a freeze on salaries and major construction projects.
"We have developed an entire range of contingency plans. Of course, the higher the number, the more difficult it is," Spanier said. "We will do whatever we have to do."
A review under way includes what Spanier called the "most comprehensive re-evaluation of the university we've ever conducted." Each campus and department vice president has been tasked to look at savings through restructuring, mergers or consolidation of departments.
Spanier, though, sounded adamant when speaking about avoiding closing campuses. The university has an enrollment of about 87,300, not including 8,500 online.
More than half, about 44,000, are enrolled at the main University Park campus in State College. Another 33,000 are enrolled at one of 19 Commonwealth Campuses, while remaining students attend law school, medical school or another graduate or technical program. Enrollments at the Commonwealth Campuses range from 4,300 in Erie to roughly 700 in Shenango.