University CFO stresses fiscal responsibility after limited spending freeze

By Stephen Neukam

Rider’s administration enforced a university-wide spending freeze on supplies, materials and other professional services in January that will remain in effect until the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Jim Hartman said that the decision to freeze the budget items is an attempt to eliminate “unnecessary spending” with a call for the university community to be “fiscally responsible.”

“We know this is a difficult situation for our campus community, but we must take a fiscally responsible approach to the university’s finances and felt these spending freezes were made with the best interest of our students and the overall health of our institution in mind,” said Hartman.

Taken into account in the freeze was the reductions from actual spending plus commitment in the budget lines toward the end of January, which, according to Hartman, make it difficult to calculate the actual savings that the university will gain from the move.

The freeze, which applies to five specific line items in the university’s budget, came as a surprise to faculty and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) leadership at the university. Hartman said that he shared “regular updates” with faculty, staff and the union leadership but did not say that the university community was made aware of the spending freeze beforehand.

In a written statement to The Rider News, the AAUP said that it had met with Hartman on a single occasion and that the budget freeze was not mentioned — the request for a statement was the first time the union had been made aware of the decision. The union raised concerns about the university’s undertaking of a $16 million to $20 million consolidation plan to move Westminster Choir College to its Lawrenceville campus while at the same time implementing spending freezes on supplies and materials.

“If Rider really is in a fiscal situation that justifies a budget freeze, then why is the administration planning on spending $20-plus million to replicate facilities that we already have in Princeton in order to move WCC to the Lawrenceville campus,” said the union statement.

“Replication of facilities is always a questionable use of scarce resources but it is a particularly bad idea if we are in fiscal freeze. The union is deeply concerned that this is simply the beginning of a campaign to justify further cuts to resources for the actual work of the university: educating our students.”

The university budgeted for an $8.2 million deficit for the fiscal year 2020, according to the school’s projections.

Hartman emphasized the need for the university to grow enrollment to “strengthen our overall financial position.”

“Rider’s budgets are dependent upon enrollment, requiring the university community to be flexible as our enrollment changes,” said Hartman. “That’s why we’ve made student recruitment and retention efforts a central focus of the university’s strategic plan. Many of our recruitment and retention efforts are showing a positive impact.”

Sophomore political science major and class Vice President Matthew Schantin was alarmed by the university’s spending freeze and said that the interests of all students must be considered in a time of transition and fiscal challenges.

“Everyone knew that taking on the Westminster campus was going to be a big task, but I think the Lawrenceville campus is starting to finally feel the effects,” said Schantin. “I think it’s going to put a lot of tension on the student body to start looking more closely at the transition process to make sure the bulk of Rider’s students still get a fair deal out of this process. It’s understandable that money gets tight with such big renovations but I think it will become a problem if the Lawrenceville campuses basic needs are not taken care of.”

Editor’s note: Like many university academic departments and organizations, The Rider News’ annual budget was also affected by the spending freeze. Nearly $1,900 earmarked for supplies, materials, furniture and equipment were removed from the newspaper’s budget.

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