- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - The flagship campus of the University of Hawaii faces a $31 million shortfall, and officials might stop hiring as part of the effort to get spending under control.

The University of Hawaii-Manoa is facing the fourth year of declining enrollment. The tuition shortfall, decreasing state support and rising energy and personnel costs account for the deficit, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (https://is.gd/8JleMs).

Interim chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman says he’s actively seeking ways to cut spending, but warns the deficit could keep growing as officials re-evaluate spending priorities.

“Our goal is to fly level for this year, and during this year try to reconnoiter and figure out where we’re going to go in the future,” said Bley-Vroman, who took over as interim chancellor Sept. 1.

Deans and directors have been asked to find ways to restrict spending this year. Those measures might involve halting new hires.

“I know that each individual dean is going to have (to) work on what is best for the dean’s college,” Bley-Vroman said. “We’ll probably see less new faculty hiring in the future - again, that will differ unit by unit, but I know that’s one thing we’re considering.”

The school brings in about $130 million in net tuition each year. The campus had a $2.6 million deficit in 2012, even though it started the year with a $21 million surplus in tuition revenue.

University of Hawaii administrators instructed campus officials to spend down some of the reserves so state officials didn’t view them as too healthy, said Kathy Cutshaw, Manoa’s vice chancellor for administration, finance and operations.

The surplus was spent on increasing faculty salaries, and upgrading student laboratory space and information technology.

Tuition revenues were subsequently spent on faculty salary restorations, student laboratory space and information technology upgrades.

The shortfall grew to $17 million and then $26 million in subsequent fiscal years. The university covered the losses with its reserves.

Utility costs were $13 million over budget those two years. The school also paid $6.4 million for a 3 percent raise for faculty members it expected the state to cover, and the Legislature cut funding by $7 million.

University president Davis Lassner cited the financial crisis at Manoa when he fired former Chancellor Tom Apple on July 30.

Some have suggested cuts to the athletic budget and system administrators’ salaries, but Bley-Vroman said the deficit requires more structural solutions.

“There are big forces here, and they have to do with the society’s view of education and who’s going to pay for it. They have to do with energy costs. They have to do with what it means to be a fairly compensated faculty member,” he said. “I think those are the issues that are really driving this.”

A committee of vice chancellors, deans, faculty members and undergraduate and graduate student representatives will review the budget process, beginning next week.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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