When UT's new budget year began in July, the university jettisoned the planetarium for solo flight. The budget included no operating expenses for the planetarium. In the previous year's appropriation, UT contributed $60,000 to the planetarium's operating budget, a little less than half of its expenses.
Lawrence Anderson-Huang, the planetarium's director, does not want to sound alarmist when he talks about the situation.
“Surely the university is in very hard times,” he said. “The mission of the university is critical. It's not my position to say which piece of the mission is more important than another. There were hard decisions to make, and I'll respect those decisions.”
But he's clearly worried.
“If the elementary schools don't send their children - of course, school budget cuts may reduce field trips - or we go Code Red, we're dead,” he said.
Anything that leads schools to cancel field trips, as some did during this year's Code Orange, will cut planetarium revenue. Schools pay about $4 per student for field trips.
Although the university cut all operational expenses for the planetarium, it continues to pay the light and cleaning bills in the facility donated to UT in 1967.
Constantine Theodosiou, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, said UT intends to continue its commitment to the planetarium, although money will determine how active it remains.
The cut this year follows steadily decreasing financial support to the planetarium. Earlier this year, the university eliminated its supply budget, and in 2000, it cut funding for a secretary.
At the same time, the planetarium's revenues, through gate receipts and donations, increased from about $20,000 in 1998 to $60,000 today. Attendance climbed from 10,000 per year in 1990 to 30,000.
University officials say the planetarium's budget cut could not be helped in a year when officials slashed $10 million in spending across the university.
“No one was picking on the planetarium,” said William Decatur, UT vice president for finance and administration. “We spent a significant amount of time brainstorming and evaluating ideas for cutting expenditures and enhancing revenues.''
In the meantime, Dr. Anderson says he's seeking more grant support.
UT's Office of Institutional Advancement is also helping. A fund-raising mailing in July to past planetarium supporters raised about $2,000. Helen Brooks, a retired astronomy professor and the planetarium's first director, also helped with fund-raising.
“The planetarium may be the only contact many children have with science,” Dr. Brooks said.
“It's very good PR for the university. When the public comes, it's perhaps their only contract with the university, other than maybe football,” Dr. Brooks said.
Dr. Brooks hopes the university will fund the planetarium again.
“We're negotiating,” she said. “We hope the fact that the planetarium is very much in the forefront, as far as the public is concerned, will help bring some assistance.”