UT budget approved, fight to save department continues

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KNOXVILLE (WVLT) --Trustee's aren't finished crunching the numbers yet, but The University of Tennessee has a new budget, and if you're a parent or student, you'll be interested to know it comes with a six percent tuition hike.

As it stands right now, there could be millions of more dollars in cuts coming.

UT's overall budget for 2009 will be $1.65 billion, which includes more than $21 million in agreed upon system wide cuts. More than $11 million has been cut from UT-Knoxville’s budget, which now sits at around $774 million.

It hasn’t been cut yet, but the flagship campus is considering closing down its nationally-ranked Department of Audiology and Speech. Heather Maret's fighting to save the program which she believes has given her deaf toddler a chance.

"He went from not being able to communicate to being able to tell us what he wanted or needed," said Maret.

Two other programs are also on the cutting block, and the fate of all three will remain unknown until October.

“It's a hard process,” said UT President John Petersen. “Obviously anything you cut, if it wasn't there, you wouldn't think it was valuable."

UT-Knoxville’s effort is all part of a move to close the more than $21 million system wide funding gap from the state.

“It's a very difficult process," Petersen said.

On Friday, trustees approved the budget and the cuts. For the time being, they have balanced the budget by upping undergraduate tuition six percent and getting rid of 40 already vacant positions.

"We are going to look strategically at our campuses in terms of how we can make these cuts permanent," said Petersen.

The Audiology and Speech program is a target because it holds about 10 faculty members and 180 students.

"The faculty from other departments that you would have to cut in order to balance that program have the equivalence of 1,000 students,” Petersen said. “That's a huge difference."

The president also believes trimming all programs across the board isn't an option.

"We've done that before and ultimately you get to the point where programs die a slow death,” he said.

"This is supposed to be a flagship university,” said Carl Asp, professor emeritus, “that means it's first class with first class programs."
Asp's has retired from teaching in the Audiology and Speech Department, but said the university better be ready for a fight.

"They grabbed a tail and didn't know what was at the other end,” he said. “There's an angry dog in there."

Even if Audiology and Speech gets axed, it won't be right away. The program would be phased out over the years and the university plans to keep the Hearing and Speech clinic open.

Exactly how that'll work is also still being decided.

Also under the new budget, President Petersen, chancellors, and vice president's won’t receive any raises.

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