Frustration over budget cuts mounts at MCG

Emotions run high amid threat to academic programs

Senior nurse anesthesia student Carla Farrell summed up the anger, hurt and bewilderment many were feeling at the Medical College of Georgia on Tuesday over the potential impact of $25.6 million in proposed cuts.

"None of us like to be pawns in whatever game is being played here," she said to thunderous applause from a packed auditorium.

Her program is scheduled to be closed in July under the proposal, leaving her and 40 classmates months from graduation with no plan to help them.

MCG was given 48 hours last week to prepare plans for the massive cut, part of $300 million in reductions legislators told the University System of Georgia to prepare, on top of $265 million already proposed for fiscal year 2011.

That meant an additional cut of 15 percent of its state appropriations on top of a 10 percent cut the school was already facing, said Bill Bowes, MCG's senior vice president for finance and administration.

More than 150 MCG students will have their programs cut, most in the School of Allied Health Sciences or Nursing.

Though some have other programs they can transfer to in-state, if a program will take them, there is no other master's degree program in nurse anesthesia in Georgia, and students don't believe they will be able to transfer credits to another program out of state.

"This means we have to start back from scratch," said Tanya Ifill, a junior in the program.

Senior Maegan Brass said she would be abandoned five months from earning her degree after racking up $70,000 in debt.

"And I would have nothing to show for it," she said. "You can buy a house for that these days."

Even before any additional cuts take place, the uncertainty is affecting the nurse anesthesia program, said interim Director Jim Masiongale.

The program got calls from three students Tuesday asking whether they should go with an alternative program, he said. The program is pleading with them for more time, Masiongale said.

Targeting certain programs for elimination seemed to be a better strategy than taking the cuts across the board, MCG administrators said.

"It is much harder to cut every program," Provost Barry Goldstein said. "When you cut every program, you weaken every program. And we have to make tough decisions."

Others were angry that the administration could not provide a plan for alternatives if the programs close.

"How exactly do you expect us to sit down and swallow that?" asked Amber Ross, a respiratory therapy student who would have graduated next year.

That frustration is shared by the administration, Goldstein said.

"If everyone here is angry, you should be angry," he said. "We're angry, too."

Officials urged those in the crowd to contact legislators about the impact the cuts could have on them.

"We don't want to see these cuts go through," Goldstein said.

"I can't emphasize more how much we don't want to make these cuts," Bowes said.

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