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UAFS chancellor announces university reorganization, budget strategies

by Thomas Saccente | April 13, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
The bell tower at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is shown in this file photo.

FORT SMITH -- The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith will reduce its number of colleges from five to three, discontinue some programs and stop using some facilities, Chancellor Terisa Riley announced in an email Monday.

"Currently employed faculty and staff, other than those who are paid strictly on grant funding, are assured of maintaining employment" at the university in fiscal 2022 with no reduction in salary or demotion, Riley wrote.

"The budget realignment is expected to result in $1,168,850 in continued annual savings or new revenue production for the university, and a one-year surplus of $530,000," Rachel Putman, associate director for strategic communications, said in an email.

Changes include the creation of a Center for Student Success and Retention beginning July 1, according to Riley's email.

The three-college model will feature the College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences; the College of Business and Industry; and the College of Arts and Sciences, Putman said.

The university now has a College of Applied Science and Technology; College of Business; College of Communication, Languages, Arts and Social Sciences; College of Health Sciences; and College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Students should notice "minimal changes" because of the reorganization, according to Riley. Accreditation of each program will remain intact.

Riley said the school's Season of Entertainment will be discontinued.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted earlier this month to assume the lease of the Blue Lion building downtown, which the university had been leasing from the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District.

The university will continue a hiring freeze that was instituted last spring. This has entailed hiring only for critical positions.

Administrators, faculty, staff and students served on six budget subcommittees that were each devoted to a specific area, Putman said. The subcommittees presented recommendations via open Zoom conferences, with the university Budget Council submitting final recommendations to Riley.

Riley wrote the discussions started because of concerns regarding enrollment projections stemming from the covid-19 pandemic. She and Kathy McDermott, interim vice chancellor of finance and administration and chief financial officer at the university, held open forums for employees and students in which they reviewed this year's budget.

This included information about an estimated budget deficit that they believed might be $8 million and immediate actions that would be taken to create a balanced budget.

Riley said in mid-February the university had predicted it would lose about 15% of its enrollment for the fall 2020 semester and budgeted accordingly. However, enrollment was down by only 5% compared to the 2019 fall semester.

Similarly, enrollment for the current spring semester dipped 11% compared to spring 2020, although the university budgeted to be down 15%.

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