Kansas University professor Frank Baron said today that he doesn't want to think about life in the German department without a full-time secretary.
"You can't run a department as huge as ours without administrative help," he said. "It is kind of a crisis for us."
The "crisis" was caused by a new state law that makes it difficult for KU and other state agencies to fill vacancies caused by retirement.
The quest for a new department secretary has become mired in the process.
Since July 1, state law has prohibited restoration of more than 75 percent of the positions in the executive and legislative branches which became vacant due to retirements. The judicial branch is exempt.
The law applies to state employees in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. In general, it doesn't affect faculty hiring, but the primary impact is on classified, or civil service, employment.
Lindy Eakin, KU's associate vice chancellor for administration and finance, said the law is not a good way to shrink the size of state government.
"It's an arbitrary way of doing it, based on the randomness of who is retiring," he said.
He said seven of 11 positions vacated at KU in August were restored. Three vacancies -- including the German department secretary slot -- are under review this month.
Eakin expects 45 to 50 retirements at KU this year, which means the university could lose a dozen positions. That's the equivalent of a $200,000 budget cut, he said.
"It's a pernicious reduction in our budget," he said. "We're very concerned this policy will continue."
Richard McKinney, director of KU's office of budget, said the law has created a massive amount of paperwork.
Agencies must complete a form to document each retirement, a form to designate which positions the agency wants to restore and a form justifying the hiring of a replacement.
Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, supported the law because it was packaged with improvements in retirement benefits for KPERS members.
She expected a few wrinkles in implementing the law, which she wants annually assessed by the Legislature. The law will have to be modified or eliminated, she said.
"If we didn't, there eventually wouldn't be any state government left. At some point, you cease being efficient and create more problems that you eliminate."
Some legislators felt state agencies had to be forced to cut staff because agency officials wouldn't voluntarily reduce payroll, she said.
"Those that proposed the original bill felt strongly that the departments were not going to deal with it on their own," Praeger said.
Baron, of the German department, said he didn't know about the hiring statute until recently. He has always known departments must have administrative staff.
"We can't function without one -- unless the state and university expects us to spend time doing more office work instead of preparing for class and working with students," he said.