Students at George Mason University are upset about plans to cut costs by turning off parking lot lights at the 20,000-student university, which like the other 14 state-supported colleges and universities in Virginia is under orders to trim spending.
Student leaders, faculty members and administrators plan to meet tomorrow to discuss concerns for safety once lights are extinguished in the early morning hours on more than half of the university's vast parking lots.
In addition, university officials have set air conditioning thermostats at 78 degrees, up from 72 degrees, as of Aug. 1. Students are having to wait longer in lines, and some classrooms may be cleaned less often this year, according to university officials.
Students are concerned about the safety implications of the lighting shutoff, though the warmer indoor temperatures during the August heat have not been a problem, said Jaan Van Valkenburgh, editor of the student newspaper, Broadside.
"The important part is the lighting," Van Valkenburgh said. "Having unlit areas is a beacon for crime."
GMU, where three-quarters of the students are Northern Virginians, is trying to cut $3.8 million in spending, or 5.6 percent of the state's appropriation to the university this year as part of Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's plan to make up a $1.4 billion decline in projected state revenue without raising taxes.
Other state universities also are trying to grapple with expected budget cuts, to be made official Sept. 14. The University of Virginia is planning to cut $9 million this fiscal year and somewhat more next year from its $416 million budget, said budget director Collette Capone.
U-Va. is continuing its hiring freeze, with most of the attrition coming from administrative staff, she said. Other cuts will be in overtime pay, travel and supplies. Lighting will not be cut at the Charlottesville campus, she added, because safety is always a major issue.
At Virginia Tech, 268 positions were abolished in an earlier round of budget cuts, including some instructors in undergraduate classes and 100 support staff members, said budget director Kathy E. Johnston. Classes are larger this year, she said, and there are fewer people to process student forms.
"The lines are longer than you can believe," Johnston said.
The school plans to cut energy consumption by 3 percent, she added.
At GMU, the administration expects to shut off lights at seven of the campus's 13 lots in October and at sections of three others from 12:30 a.m. until 6 a.m., when traffic and parking lot use is at a minimum, said Dan Walsh, a George Mason spokesman.
Lights will at first be dimmed while administrators evaluate parking and traffic patterns, he said. The university will provide escort services for people walking on campus in those off hours, he added.
J. Wade Gilley, George Mason senior vice president, said the university also is reviewing contracts signed with private firms over the last two years for food and cleaning services. One result could be classrooms and offices being cleaned less frequently, he said.
GMU already has 110 vacancies in administrative positions because of a hiring freeze put in effect this spring and summer. This has meant fewer security officers, parking attendants and personnel in the registrar's office. "Everything is taking a little longer," Gilley said.