By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Delta State University President William LaForge recently spoke with The Bolivar Commercial following a series of forums held at the university for faculty, staff and students
Last month, it was revealed that Delta State was facing a $1.7 million budget shortfall.
LaForge said the shortfall resulted in a decline in tuition revenue from fewer paying students, estimated at about $1 million, as well as the distribution of too many scholarships.
These two factors combined with budget issues Delta State has been “whittling away” at for several years culminated in what LaForge called a “midyear budget adjustment.”
“The good news about our midyear budget revision is that it is about as painless as it can be,” LaForge said. “We’re not asking anybody to leave. Nobody is being fired. No program is being ended or terminated or cut. No people are leaving. No programs are being touched.
“And most importantly, it’s not affecting our students in any way. It’s not really affecting faculty or staff. It’s mostly paper.”
LaForge declined to comment on the matter of the former university comptroller being terminated from the position by saying the university did not comment on individual personnel issues.
“I will say that part of the difficulty in identifying the shortfalls from last year is where we had inaccurate information provided to us. I’ll leave it at that.”
LaForge and members of his administration held a series of forums on Oct. 31 for staff, students and faculty that outside media were not permitted to attend.
LaForge said he was unaware if media was included or not in previous years but wanted the opportunity to discuss the matter personally with the members of DSU first.
“I frankly didn’t know if media was included or not in previous years, but this year, as I think our initial response to you was, we’re happy to share things with the public, but we had not had a chance when all of this came down to even have a conversation with our own family,” LaForge said. “I hadn’t had a chance to talk with my own faculty or my own staff about it. That’s why we did it that way.”
The Bolivar Commercial has covered at least one of the meetings in the past since LaForge started the forums and published stories on what was said.
Initially when asked about covering the forums, the paper was told in e-mails from the university, “The presidential forums are in-house.” and “The presidential forums are internal events—for faculty, staff, and students—and not for external audiences.”
Over the last several months, The Bolivar Commercial has received complaints and concerns about the funding for the new president’s home, currently being constructed.
“It’s interesting that people in Cleveland would have a negative view toward this because when I arrived here six-and-a-half years ago, the Cleveland community went overboard saying, boy, we’re so sad you don’t have a nice house to live in. How times change.”
LaForge clarified that the funding for the house was not tied with the budget shortfall.
He explained the house’s construction has come from a cumulative line-of-credit from several local banks, and that plant funds will pay for the balloon note over a period of time following the completion of the house.”
Plant funds, in general, are funds used for the construction, renovation, and acquisition of capital assets.
“The budget for the house is completely different from our operational budget so all of the budget revisions we just made have nothing to do whatsoever with the house,” LaForge said. “Simple as that.”
Asked about the status of the former golf course, LaForge said the university was permitted two years ago to grant a lease of the land for commercial development for up to 40 years with another possible extension of 10 years.
The feasibility study, required by IHL and necessary for developers, has been approved and will be done over the next several months.
LaForge called any immediate plans for the golf course “premature.”
“We hope probably early in the new year — January or February sometime — to get a feel from (the feasibility study) as to what they think is feasible for development by a commercial outfit,” LaForge said. “And it’s going to be off our budget. This is going to be totally developed privately.
“At the end of the stream, we’re going to have a revenue source for Delta State going forward.”
LaForge said the Court of Governors dormitories are in “a decrepit state” and while there are several ideas for what can be done, there is nothing in the budget and no immediate plans to do anything at this time.
LaForge was asked at one of the forums on the possibility of administration taking a pay cut in light of the budget issues. He said it was not under consideration.
“I understand that symbolically it might mean something to someone,” LaForge said. “In reality it would have very little impact on anything. You have basically five vice presidents and me in administration. We’re a pretty lean and mean organization here for a college to be honest with you.
LaForge explained several years ago he received a salary increase from IHL that was described to him as “institutional” so he could not turn it down despite being in a budget crunch in that period as well.
LaForge said he donated it to the foundation, which got no attention.
“(A pay cut) is relatively meaningless,” LaForge said. “It’s a symbolic act. What would it gain? What would it benefit? For us to cut a salary, nobody else’s salary is cut and we’re not cutting any positions. We’re not cutting anything on campus.
“Unless it’s vitriol on the part of somebody on the faculty or staff who said this is the way we can punish somebody for something that they perceive was wrong. No money was lost. No money was taken. There’s no impropriety, nothing. This is just a budget reconfiguration.”
LaForge said the foundation is currently on a $50 million capital campaign and is 50 percent on the way to that goal. He praised a recent phone-a-thon that raised $35,000.
When asked if Delta State University is in trouble, LaForge responded, “Absolutely not.
“We are stable. We have 34 days of cash. That’s $6 million plus. We’re in a very stable position. We’re trying to meet new IHL requirements that moves up the chain and increases that number of days of cash. That’s why in our rebudgeting this year we’re planning for a surplus so that come June 30 we’re going to have an extra $1.5 million set aside for cash so that we’re in a safer, more secure position. Just like a family does when they put money aside.”
LaForge emphasized the increase of 1.2 percent in enrollment recently announced by IHL that will increase university revenues.
“This is an interesting community of people who love to play on Facebook and things like that, to which I do not subscribe,” LaForge said. “I do not read Facebook. If people have questions, our door is open. I’ve had meetings with people and would be glad to talk to them. This is a pretty open place.”