Kansas University professor Evelyn Swartz said the topic of the day on campus is the governor's proposal to nix funding for the third year of the Margin of Excellence.
Gov. Mike Hayden, who in the past supported the program to enhance faculty salaries and operating budgets, will discuss his plan tonight in his State of the State speech.
He said over the weekend that he will ask the Legislature to delay the final $16.3 million installment of the Margin of Excellence because the state can't afford the program.
With the resounding support of university officials, the Legislature approved $12 million in Fiscal Year 1989 and $17.1 million in the current budget year for the initiative.
Swartz, professor of curriculum and instruction and former University Senate Executive Committee chair, said the proposed demise of the Margin of Excellence is a major concern.
"It causes deep concern among faculty because the Margin of Excellence is needed to ensure the quality of the university, quality that has been eroded in the past due to inadequate attention," she said.
SWARTZ ISN'T disturbed simply because the cuts would damage her earning power. The adjustment would harm the university's ability to teach and conduct research, she said.
Del Shankel, a professor of microbiology who has also been executive vice chancellor and acting chancellor, said faculty have viewed the Margin of Excellence as a three-year obligation.
"During the past two years of the Margin of Excellence, faculty have been very encouraged by the support of the state. They have viewed that program as a commitment to strengthen higher education.
"To retreat from that now would have a rather devastating effect on morale, especially on younger faculty who are in the process of developing careers," Shankel said.
Several faculty said failure to fund the Margin of Excellence would throw their salaries further behind the pay scales at "peer" institutions across the country.
Daryle Busch, a professor of chemistry who came to KU from Ohio State University two years ago, said the Margin of Excellence was one factor he weighed in making the decision to transfer.
"I feel the reason new people were brought in was because they were attempting to regain the position the university had in national stature," he said. "I think the Margin of Excellence was a substantial part of that."
SINCE HE has been here, Busch said he has found that funding for education is at a lower level than he thought it was.
"The institution is not in very good shape compared to other colleges in the U.S., despite excellent personnel," he said. "Even with the Margin, the situation is clearly marginal. Money is a problem."
E.P. Johnsen, a professor of educational psychology and president of the KU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said he expected there might be problems with higher education funding this year, but nonetheless was disappointed with Hayden's decision.
"We have a lot of ground to cover in terms of becoming competitive," he said, pointing out that universities outside the Kansas Board of Regents continue to increase faculty salaries.
"Those schools are not standing still," he said. "We are not competitive in attracting new people and holding senior people here."
With the first two years of Margin of Excellence funding, he said, "We went up a step. Now we don't want to fall back down."
Robert Hohn, a professor of educational psychology and research and past president of the AAUP at KU, said he was concerned that education is becoming less of a priority than such matters as highway construction.
"I understand the problems the state has with finances, but I'm a little cynical," he said, pointing out that every year there seems to be money after dire predictions of a shortfall early in the legislative session.