University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran discussed the looming financial and legislative uncertainty that will touch his campus in the coming months at Wednesday’s (Dec. 7) Board of Visitors meeting.
Beran said the funding formula at the state level will shift to a performance-based model two years from now, and that could affect UAFS, though it was unclear how. The state funding formula for UAFS amounts to $21 million per year. The university’s overall annual budget is approximately $73 million.
“At the state level, there have been models and based on the ones I’ve seen, we’re kind of right in the middle. It’s not going to help us or hurt us too much one way or the other,” Beran told Talk Business & Politics after the meeting. “But then again, we haven’t done any modeling that currently represents exactly how we count things and how we do things. If we were to adjust and amend that to fit the model better, I still think we will be just fine. However, it adds a level of uncertainty because it hasn’t been completely determined how it’s going to work out.”
Beran continued: “For us, what is important is that we get an opportunity for state funding to support our non-credit activities in which we’re helping business and industry because we don’t really get anything for that right now.”
Beran expects public support for higher education will continue to be discussed in the coming legislative session, and said he wants “to make sure that we’re not affected in a negative way” from those discussions.
Some of the “non-credit activities” he mentioned include “the training of 1,500 to 3,000 people each year, dispersed among 100 different companies — everything from hard skills to soft skills, truck driving, to high precision welding, to leadership.”
“It’s all those things we teach every day to better our economic development for the community. Those have to be self-supporting for us because we get no help from the state, but it’s our responsibility,” Beran said.
GUNS ON CAMPUS
Also Wednesday, Beran noted that a bill allowing guns on campus has been filed for the upcoming legislative session, and the issue is one that will likely affect UAFS in 2017.
“I can assure you guns on campus will be front-and-center,” he told the Board, adding that it would “only allow faculty and staff to be licensed carriers on campus. That is superior to most other states, but it’s still not what it needs to be in my opinion.”
Beran acknowledged the argument that more guns can dissuade attacks, but said he would argue “the training our uniformed officers have is far more significant training than someone who goes out and gets a gun license that takes a day to get and you only have to shoot about a dozen bullets.”
Whatever the legislature decides, Beran said, “we will manage it in the best way that we possibly can.”
“I am very concerned about this,” he added. “I don’t think it’s necessary on this campus. I think we have good reactionary processes already in place.”
Lastly, Beran turned his attention to what he called the university’s “diversity arenas” and, more specifically, the legislation that could “create problems and issues for us.”
“With respect for people with their own unique individual realities and challenges,” Beran said he has concerns, citing “very specific and concrete laws about immigrants and how they are treated, whether illegal or legal,” as well as “what is allowed to the point of how an individual declares themselves and what restrooms they might use.”
“It is going to create some major issues and problems for us as it has in North Carolina if those kinds of things move forward,” Beran said, referring to the state’s controversial House Bill 2 (aka “Bathroom Bill”) that regulated who could use specific restrooms, which was seen by many as an anti-LGBTQ piece of legislation.
Uncertainties aside, Beran said he believes the university is “in a great place institutionally,” adding that he looks forward to, “regardless of what happens in the legislature, working around whatever we have to work around, and continuing to provide a great education for our students.”