Published on 05/31/11

Budget cuts take bigger bite out of UGA ag college

By J. Faith Peppers

After surviving repeated budget cuts since 2009 totaling close to 25 percent, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will layoff 18 employees and sell 602 acres of research farms and timberland to make cuts levied by the state for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“We’ve worked hard over the past three budget cycles to make these drastic cuts without employee layoffs,” said J. Scott Angle, CAES dean and director. “We have had massive response to retirement incentives, which coupled with natural attrition reduced our workforce by 355 positions.”

The latest cut to the college’s Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension Service budgets was more than the college could absorb.

“We have eliminated every inefficiency we could find,” Angle said. “We redesigned our Extension delivery system to maximize every dollar and every employee. We leveraged every research grant, and we just came up short.”

After examining and prioritizing the college’s programs, Angle decided to close several research programs, further tighten select county Extension offices and sell valuable farmland to be able to make pending cuts.

“We have to look at these budget cuts as permanent,” Angle said. “It’s clear we won’t be able to rebuild any of our programs in the near future, so we must reduce our workforce, programs and infrastructure to match our new budget realities.”

Land for Sale, Programs Closed

Earlier this year, the college listed an 80-acre parcel of pasture and timberland outside of Griffin, Ga., for sale. On May 23, the college offered the 522-acre Plant Sciences Farm in Watkinsville, Ga., for sale, too.

In addition, the college will close the peach research facility at Byron, Ga., and pecan pest management, horticulture research and plant pathology programs at its campus in Tifton, Ga. It will also make further staff reductions on the Griffin and Athens campuses.

“We chose to eliminate programs that were low priorities within the departments and programs where relevant, reliable information was available to clients from another CAES department or from USDA,” Angle said.

Angle said highly publicized tuition and student fee hikes left many legislators and taxpayers with the impression the university wasn’t really cutting the budget.

“Not only has the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences taken bigger cuts and lost more positions than the rest of the university over the past three years, the cuts are real and permanent for us,” Angle said. “Unlike other colleges within the university that can offset budget cuts with tuition increases, we benefit very little from tuition.”

The ag college is funded differently from other UGA colleges because Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations are separate state budgets from the university’s instruction budget. Those two organizations’ funds make up the majority of the college’s state budget allocation. Neither gets any funding from university tuition.

“Making permanent decisions like selling land and laying off employees are never easy decisions,” Angle said. “But, we are out of options. We must make decisions that will help us function effectively long-term as a much smaller college.”

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.