Winthrop plans sweeping cuts

Winthrop University will charge students a $50 fee for the spring semester, increase the size of some classes and close some buildings earlier under a plan to deal with deep cuts in state funding.

"These are unprecedented times, but not unmanageable times," President Anthony DiGiorgio wrote Thursday in a campuswide e-mail.

Some students said the $50 fee didn't surprise them, given the pattern of cost increases at Winthrop in recent years. Tuition went up 8.3 percent this year, putting the yearly price tag at about $11,000 for in-state students, plus room and board.

The board of trustees will vote today on the $50 fee proposal.

"There's not much we can do about it," said junior Justine Guerrero, an elementary education major from Goose Creek. "It's progressed every year, ever since we were freshmen. I guess we're just used to it."

Other students had feared a sharper increase.

"When it's four thousand and change for each semester, 50 dollars doesn't really seem like that much," said senior Andrew Kiel of Mount Pleasant. "If 50 bucks is what it takes, I'm more than willing to pay."

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, took a different view. Told of the school's plans, Simrill said raising student fees "should be off the table." He urged Winthrop to find another solution.

"I don't begrudge what they're having to do," said Simrill, a Winthrop graduate. "I'm just telling you ... those students are in tough budget times, too. The economy's strained, and the last thing a family needs is a $50 surcharge."

The burden on students could have been worse, DiGiorgio said. The school could have charged $791 per student to generate the needed $3.4 million only through tuition.

Instead, Winthrop will absorb $3.2 million -- 94 percent of the overall cut -- by eliminating or scaling back in a range of areas:

• Limiting travel, with trips involving students making presentations to professional conferences given first priority

• Deferring this spring's "Create Carolina" arts festival, which likely will become an alter-nate-year event

• Canceling Winthrop's co-sponsorship of the annual "Shrinkdown" regional weight loss campaign

• Holding a number of staff and faculty vacancies open, and spreading the work from those positions among other employees

• Increasing some class sizes, typically by two to five students, to decrease the number of sections offered, which in turn reduces the number of part-time instructors to be hired

• Limiting hours of operation for some buildings, including the Lois Rhame West Center

• Offering some elective and upper-level courses less frequently

The announcements come less than a month after state lawmakers passed $488 million in budget cuts made necessary, they said, by the sluggish national economy. Simrill voted in favor of the cuts.

DiGiorgio emphasized that Winthrop employees would share in the sacrifices. Midyear pay raises are being redirected to continuing the salary increase mandated by the state last year.

Some professors will give up nonclassroom time to take on extra duties, while others will teach more or bigger classes as vacancies go unfilled.

But the plan calls for no layoffs or furloughs, a prospect that had worried employees in recent weeks.

More sacrifices are possible if lawmakers make more cuts in January. DiGiorgio called Thursday for relief, saying colleges and universities "cannot continue to be the sacrificial part of the state budget."