University leader embraces cuts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

President M. Christopher Brown is quick to quote a bit of his grandmother’s wisdom.

“You can only spend a dollar one time,” he says.

The money can be spent now, or saved for later, but it can’t do both.

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Hearing a university president talk about saving money at all was rare until recently.

A peaceful stroll through the campuses of Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss and even the Natchez campus of Alcorn State University might truly have you believing money grows on trees.

Our public institutions seemingly spare no expense when it comes to constructing and equipping buildings and landscaping grounds.

The business school on the Alcorn campus is easily one of the top 5 nicest modern structures in all of the Miss-Lou.

Though everyone enjoys beauty and grandeur at his or her alma mater, those of us in the private sector can’t help but whistle under our breath at the thought of the cost — often to the taxpayers.

But the world has changed in recent years, and university presidents do have to use words like “cut,” “save” and “make do.”

Brown — who will be inaugurated as Alcorn’s 18th president Saturday — said he’s not afraid to chart the course to cuts.

That’s music to ears of many in the business world and refreshing to hear from the lips of a state employee.

On the job since January, Brown has already reviewed and rejected the existing master plan for Alcorn State University, he said.

The administration offices won’t be immediately moved, the Lorman business school won’t get the renovated space it was expecting and changes to the student union may not be coming anytime soon.

Brown didn’t create the university’s current budget, but he will control the next one.

“Beginning in July, we’ll say, who do you need, when do you need them and what are you going to spend money on,” Brown said.

Further, Brown doesn’t believe budget cuts should be a response to an external force. Instead, they are necessary pruning that must be continually carried out.

The money coming into Alcorn appears sufficient to complete the school’s mission, he said, and if it’s not, well, he’ll deal with that, too.

“I don’t tinker, patch or plug,” he said. “I stop and assess.

“I’m an outcomes person. The process doesn’t interest me.”

Brown considers starting a new job in a tight economy a good thing.

“Scarce resources for a new president is a blessing,” he said. “You evaluate the core. Everyone should build a budget from zero.”

Brown talks confidently in his plans to take Alcorn from the past into the future on a tight budget. If talk were everything, Brown would already be a hero.

Instead, only time will tell if grandma’s lessons are just a cute cliché to use with newspaper reporters or truly a motto by which to live.

Either way, Natchez and Southwest Mississippi should be watching closely.

The future of Alcorn may very well be tied to the future of all of us.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or