Stalling KU faculty raises now to resolve budget woes may evoke an undesirable reaction from state legislators in the future.
A move by Kansas University officials to postpone faculty raises could tarnish KU's credibility in the Capitol and prompt legislators to shortchange the university in the 1996 session, lawmakers say.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said Tuesday that several lawmakers confided to him they felt betrayed by KU's move to defer faculty raises for six months to help wipe out a budget shortfall.
"As one of them succinctly phrased it, 'I didn't vote for a 3.5 percent pay raise for state employees just to have KU take it.'"
For years, KU officials have told legislators that the university's top priority was faculty salaries. But when a budget shortfall of nearly $3 million appeared this year, the No. 1 item on the chopping block was $1.6 million earmarked by the Legislature for faculty raises on July 1.
Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, said KU risked the wrath of legislators next session for suddenly moving faculty salaries down the priority list.
"I think some of us are less of a mind to believe that there is an urgency" to raise salaries, he said.
KU's problem began with a $1.6 million legislative cut in a proposed budget for 1995-96. The woe for KU was compounded by a $1.2 million shortfall in federal support of indirect research costs.
"If we'd only experienced the legislative budget cut, probably we could have solved the problem without affecting salaries," said Robert Hemenway, who takes over Thursday as KU's chancellor.
He said the alternative would have been to punish KU students.
"They wouldn't have classes. They wouldn't be able to proceed toward degrees," he said.
Of the six Kansas Board of Regents universities, KU and Fort Hays State University resolved budget problems by shifting money designated by the Legislature for faculty salaries to the operating budget.
At FHSU, faculty urged administrators to award raises of only 2.5 percent to free up money for the operating budget.
Faculty Council at KU passed a resolution that denounced the decision of KU officials to withhold their pay raise until Jan. 1.
Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, said the decision by KU administrators to modify the salary plan may have violated legislative intent.
"My feeling, as to legislative intent, was that most legislators thought they were voting for a 3.5 percent pay raise. Period," he said.
Outgoing KU Chancellor Del Shankel consulted with regents and legislative leaders before shelving pay raises, Hemenway said.
House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, R-Baxter Springs, said it was his belief the Legislature appropriated salary money in the form of a block grant. It's up to the Board of Regents to decided how to divide that grant.
Sloan said KU's decision to delaying the faculty pay hike remained perplexing to rank-and-file legislators.
"My first inclination would be not to cut salaries, particularly when that is always the, or one of the, highest priorities when they address the Legislature," he said.