Archive for Saturday, August 2, 2008

Simons: KU’s handling of potential budget cuts raises questions

August 2, 2008


Much has been said in recent days about the possibility of Kansas University officials, as well as their counterparts at other Kansas Board of Regents universities, figuring out how to make do with less funding from the state.

Last week, school officials were told to work out a plan to reduce spending and have it ready for a presentation to the regents at their retreat, scheduled for Aug. 19-21 in Wichita.

KU Provost Richard Lariviere told KU faculty members and deans that state officials had asked state universities to cut their budgets by up to 7 percent over the next two years.

Whether Lariviere's interpretation of the message or messages he received from various state officials was accurate is up for debate. There's no question, however, that the state's budget is tight and top elected officials are trying to plan for the future and the distinct possibility that all state-aided programs will have to operate with fewer dollars.

The reaction by KU officials, students and faculty was immediate. Such cuts couldn't be made without severe damage to the schools and their students, they said. According to some, there was great unrest among the faculty, even the suggestion that numerous bright, up-and-coming faculty members would start looking for positions at other universities. Students didn't know what the impact of classes or programs being cut or eliminated might have on their study and graduation plans.

Within a day or so, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius got into the middle of the issue, saying KU officials had overreacted. She said, "I hope they will calm down : there is no proposed budget cut of 7 percent. I'm frankly a little bit disappointed that that's how it has been highlighted."

Donna Shank, regents chairwoman, backed up the governor by saying KU officials had gone overboard.

Did Lariviere misfire on how he interpreted messages about trimming the budget? Did he overstate the matter, or is Sebelius trying to backtrack on her level of concern about fewer tax revenue dollars to spread throughout the state?

Regardless, this matter does raise a very important question: Who is speaking for KU and who seems to be absent?

Lariviere and KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz were the only KU people quoted concerning KU's reaction to possible budget cuts.

The provost does indeed have the responsibility of working with the faculty and the academic programs. He is "Mr. Inside" while Chancellor Robert Hemenway is looked to as "Mr. Outside," dealing with legislators, the public, alumni and public concerns. Bretz has several roles as the public/media relations individual, as well as overseeing the school's lobbyist actions in Topeka.

But in a matter such as this, when it deals with the operation of the university, the fiscal welfare of the school, how the institution will carry out its mission, how parents of students should view possible budget cuts and what jobs may be eliminated, it seems the proper individual to speak for the university is the chancellor. The perception is that he is very close to the governor. In fact, he recently returned from a trip to England with Sebelius.

Why hasn't he spoken up about a situation that has caused such concern? Justified or not, there has been growing concern about the declining visibility of the chancellor with some questioning who is running the school: Lariviere or Hemenway - or maybe even Athletics Director Lew Perkins.

Are Lariviere and Bretz the two individuals who should be speaking and representing the school on a matter such as this?

Potential budget cuts are a serious matter, particularly when the level or percentage of state funding continues to slip year by year. Also, students and their parents are being asked to pay a higher and higher bill to attend classes on Mount Oread.

Higher education takes a big slice out of the state budget and the health of the regents universities is terribly important for the future of the state. The public needs to have the utmost confidence in the level of excellence and leadership of the institutions and be confident that the chancellor or presidents are doing their utmost to fight for the schools.

It is unfortunate, as well as puzzling, that KU's chancellor was not speaking for the university on the budget-cut proposal matter.


yourworstnightmare 9 years, 10 months ago

I agree that the Chancellor is a non-entity at KU.Lariviere was simply preparing for the worst. The cuts were never discussed as a certainty. Rather the Provost asked KU units to think about the possibility of these cuts and plan what might be cut if they were a reality.Granted, there was a bit of hype, but these cuts would in fact hurt the university, faculty and students.Every single unit at KU needs to be evaluated and judged according to their contributions to the university in monetary terms. Every single faculty member should be evaluated in terms of their monetary contributions to the university in terms of tuition they generate by teaching and money they bring in through research grants. This would be a good place to start.No sacred cows here. If a unit or faculty member is underperforming in this arena, they should be put on notice to do better or face cuts.

OnlyTheOne 9 years, 10 months ago

Hey, let's be real honest Chancellor Robert Hemenway is another President Ronald Regan, "I didn't know what was happening. It wasn't done in my name, I didn't authorize that, What? Who? Not from my office, no."

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 10 months ago

For example, KU has an English Department with greater than 40 faculty. Most of the credit hours taught by this department come from graduate teaching assistants and lecturers. The professors themselves teach small, specialized courses with very low enrollments. Also, this department brings in almost no research money to the university.There is certainly some streamlining that could be done here.

Godot 9 years, 10 months ago

Yourworstnightmare, I agree, it is outrageous that there is so little research funding for the English language department. Replace it with Chinese. I am sure there would be excellent grant support from the Peoples Republic of China.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 9 years, 10 months ago

Agree, Hemenway is a huge liability to this university. He should have been fired long ago.

Godot 9 years, 10 months ago

IMHO, the problem is that somewhere in the most recent generation, KU lost its way from being a teaching instituion to being a research institution. In the transition, education for the sake of education was the sacrificial lamb. Now KU is only about Big Research and Big Athletics. Teaching be damned.

Alison Carter 9 years, 10 months ago

Personally I think it was good that Lariviere put out the notice for budget cuts. The exercise of finding where cuts could be made in each area is useful......and requires THOUGHTFUL consideration which is what Lariviere is allowing. Some cuts could be made sooner rather than later. Whether the Chancellor speaks publicly on this or not, the economic situation is not going to get much better.Panic? who helped create the panic? All of this requires longrange thoughtful planning and that's what KU is doing.

davidsmom 9 years, 10 months ago

Absolutely, this was handled poorly. The chancellor should be speaking for the University in such a matter. So in recent months we've had the the provost and the assoc. athletics director misspeaking. KU needs to get serious about doing a better job in the area of public communications, or risk serious damage to public relations, which they absolutely cannot afford.

frankwiles 9 years, 10 months ago

"Such cuts couldn't be made without severe damage to the schools and their students, they said." Oh come on people. I've worked in many organizations of various sizes, including KU, there is always some fat that can be cut without any major impact on the base service. Everyone knows there is a big difference between essential costs and convenient/nice to have spending. I would imagine that you could find 7% of costs savings without negatively impacting even 2% of the students. When many taxpayers and business owners are having to make cuts of at least 7% due to the current state of the economy, it's only fair that KU and the other state funded universities look for places to save, even if it means cutting some good programs that only benefit a small number of students. It's good for a large organization like this to make it's internal units prove their worth and justify their funding. Makes for less complacent employees.

Jack Martin 9 years, 10 months ago

I'd like to address a couple of issues brought up in this opinion piece.First, regarding the implication that the University of Kansas said the cuts were definite, this is not the case. The news release announcing this situation emphasized in the headline and each of the first five paragraphs that all that was being sought were proposals. At no point did KU officials indicate that budget cuts were a certainty. This is something we have pointed out on multiple occasions to this newspaper.Second, Chancellor Hemenway has in fact spoken publicly about the budget situation, most recently during a July 24 trip to Manhattan to speak to the local Rotary Club and meet with area alumni. He will also be representing KU at the Regents retreat this month where the budget situation will be discussed.Like Governor Sebelius and other supporters of higher education, we are hopeful budget reductions will not be necessary.(As a side note, in response to a comment on coaches' salaries, all of those salaries are funded with non-state funds i.e. no tax or tuition dollars.)

Jonathan Kealing 9 years, 10 months ago

Hawk-Read this article. J-W reporters have collected the memos. They're excepted at the bottom. KealingOnline editor

kujayhawk7476 9 years, 10 months ago

The larger issue is that after so many years of legislators cutting taxes constantly to help their re-election efforts, not funding deferred maintenance, allowing the state infrastructure to crumble (roads, buildings, etc.), the money well has run dry and there is nothing in the bank. Shame on the legislature, which happens to be dominated by too many right-wing wackos! Send them all home!

KU_cynic 9 years, 10 months ago

On one hand, it does appear that the "sky is falling" tone among top KU administrators suggests an overreaction. Somehow there appears to have been some miscommunication between the Regents office and top KU brass. Given Reggie Robinson's experience, laying the blame on the new guy, KU Provost Lariviere, seems to make sense. Hemenway appears to have been out to lunch on this one (a pattern is emerging, however).On the other hand, so-called "leaders" in this state -- from the governor and legislature down to KU brass and professors -- are guilt of being quite nearsighted about what in my eyes is an entirely predictable slowdown in state revenues, coupled with the realization that gambling-related revenues are falling well short of rosey scenarios previously forecasted. Blindly planning for growth and unrealistically hoping for massive investments -- such as a material dent in the deferred maintenance deficit -- is just poor leadership and management. A meaningful exercise forcing the regents schools to ask themselves, "How would we adapt to a material cut in state revenues (after we quit kicking and screaming about it, naturally)?" would be a useful endeavor, although perhaps not one to be attempted suddenly in a two-week period at the end of summer.

clyde_never_barks 9 years, 10 months ago

How interesting that Jack Martin felt compelled to reply online.

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 10 months ago

"cut English literature & education in Kansas ?"Not my point, Spidey. I am merely saying that units and professors must be accountable to what they contribute to the university. English professors bring in little research money and teach very small courses (little tuition revenue), yet there are over 40 of them.Is this the way to go? No. I would say make the professors teach the bigger classes or expect them to bring in research overhead.If there is not demand enough for all of the English professors to teach big classes, then maybe there shouldn't be over 40 faculty members, one of the biggest faculties on campus.

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 10 months ago

"Replace it with Chinese. I am sure there would be excellent grant support from the Peoples Republic of China."Not my point. I merely used English as an example. It is my suspicion that the same charge can be leveled against other language departments.However, at least the East Asian Studies program brought in millions from the People's Republic to build the chinese propaganda machine Confucius Institute. ; )

FMT6488 9 years, 10 months ago

Godot has a point - I can remember when KU was considered to be one of "the best" public universities for English Lit. classes. Currently, when I hear people speak of it, it is considered to have a very good English program, but I no longer hear of it being included with "the best" anymore.

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 10 months ago

"Now KU is only about Big Research and Big Athletics. Teaching be damned."KU is and always has been a research university. If you want a teaching university, go to Baker, Fort Hays, Emporia, or Pitt State.For too long KU was dominated by the small liberal arts teaching college mindset while its peers in North Carolina, Iowa, Illinois, Oregon, and other places had their priorities straight as research universities. This is why KU has fallen in the rankings. Research is what makes research universities great and what brings them national and international repute.I applaud Lariviere for recognizing this and doing something about it. The last provost, Schulenburger, was all about the teaching and cared not for research, and look where that got KU.

vega 9 years, 10 months ago

yourworstnightmare, the best solution would be to keep one (1) English prof to teach several thousand students at the Memorial stadium - big revenue + great saving on prof salaries. Would also help local sales of umbrellas. Even better, students should read Wikipedia entries for everything they think they should know - problem solved, demand fulfilled, no University needed, even a bigger saving!!!!

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