Archive for Wednesday, August 6, 2008

KU will weather lean times

August 6, 2008


As a faculty member at KU I've been bemused by all the recent publicity about potential budget cuts. While the details still remain somewhat murky it seems as though the provost has managed to irritate the governor and some folks at the university by his manner in asking administrators to plan for potential cuts. But, to my mind, this is really rather a trivial matter.

If one looks at the incontestable facts, then one has to admit that the state and national economies are weakening, that oil prices are higher this year than last, and that most people are beginning to feel rather insecure financially, an insecurity magnified by the daily economic doom and gloom on the news, notices of businesses closing, banks going into receivership and tax revenues taking a dive, as well as the trauma of filling up our cars with unbelievably expensive gas. But, I'll suggest to you that there have been some positive results which have already come from the "panic" over potential budget cuts at KU.

First, and most, important, I think that it's important that everybody at the university realize that we are not in an era of unlimited resources. Indeed, every little bit helps. I was impressed by the reaction of the law library staff at KU in their recognition of our economic situation. Even though they were not told to do it, the librarians decided to turn off lights in areas that were unpopulated and to turn off public computers until someone wanted to use them.

I suspect that the total energy savings were relatively small from these acts, but if everybody at the university took energy efficiency seriously, I also suspect that the savings would be significant. This, of course, is just one example of the ways in which people at the university are helping to cut costs. And whether or not we have budgets cuts imposed on us, we ought to be doing everything we can do to save money. If we don't have the cuts, let's use the savings to keep tuition down or to enrich the academic experience for our students.

I am sorry that some university employees became frightened that they might lose their jobs. But the fact is, in the present economy, that's not an unusual fear. People all over the United States are losing jobs. It's bad but it's reality. I believe that no administrator at KU will lay off employees except as a last resort. Firing people is very hard, especially in a community like ours where employees are well-known and do real work that needs to be done.

I've also been interested that some employees, even faculty, are considering leaving because things may get rough financially, at least for awhile. Of course, they're free to do that. But are they sure that it will be better somewhere else? And what of loyalty to their colleagues, their students, the community and state?

This may be, for me, the most important part of the budget-cutting exercise. I value institutional loyalty. I think that folks who only stay at a university while everything is easy and leave during the hard times ought to leave and ought not to be missed.

A university is far more than an employer, more than a place that pays a salary. A great university does far more, and loyal faculty and staff understand this and stick with it in bad times as well as good. Those of us who have been around for a while know that there are always going to be bad times, but that good times always return. During the bad times you just do what needs to be done and wait for better times to come.

So, what's the bottom line in all of this for me? The bottom line is that we shouldn't panic. We also shouldn't start blaming people for trying to plan ahead in case cuts are necessary. We must also be realistic. Times are hard for most people in the world today. We at KU may well have to make do next year with less, just like the majority of Kansans may have to make do with less disposable income.

What I hope that administrators at KU will do is to make whatever cuts need to be made sensitively, and help those who are negatively affected as much as they can. But I also hope that they never lose sight of the fact that great universities survive even bad times and that KU is a great university, with loyal employees, alumni and friends. Great universities' greatness transcends temporary setbacks and those who believe in such universities stay with them in both good times and bad.

- Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


John Kyle 9 years, 10 months ago

"I am sorry that some university employees became frightened that they might lose their jobs. But the fact is, in the present economy, that's not an unusual fear. People all over the United States are losing jobs. It's bad but it's reality. "I imagine you have tenure on your side. What a heartless article.

Doug Harvey 9 years, 10 months ago

Dr. Hoeflich -- I was hoping to hear you say that. I agree that staff are just as important and I'm glad that some tenured faculty are willing to help out with the situation. But will it actually happen? -- I guess is the next question. Thanks for your reply -- I hope KU faculty can set an example for the rest of the state.Invictus: I would disagree with your observation on "bureaucrats" -- at least college and university bureaucrats -- contributing least to society. We are on the front lines with regard to many issues, including things like the defense of civil liberties, serving as the nation's memory, providing legal support for the citizenry, to say nothing of all the technological developments upon which society depends -- including health care. Sure, there are "shiftless" bureaucrats, just as there are shiftless farmers, factory workers, and doctors. Come take my history class and we'll talk about the history of "shiftlessness." :>)Dr. Douglas HarveyLawrence, KSAKA "tenstring"

Mike Hoeflich 9 years, 10 months ago

You are both misreading what I said or, perhaps, I simply wasn't clear. I mean nothing by the phrase "disposable income" other than its common meaning, i.e. what pople have to spend. My point in using this phrase was to say that everybody is feeling the financial strains of the economic slowdown and it's unrealistic to expect that the university should wholly escape the pain. As to being tenured and heartless, I have two comments. First, tenure is of no value at all if a university declares "financial exigency." Once the university decides that it is in a fiscal crisis, under AAUP rules, tenured faculty can be dismissed. This has happened many times around the US in the past. Second, I am sorry that people were frightened, but I don't believe that we who work at the university have any more right to have lifetime job security than anybody else. I cannot honestly think that I or any other KU employee should be completely secure in their jobs when folks who work for other state agencies or private businesses are not. Is there some rationale for saying that a KU employee must keep his or her job when a public school teacher or a police officer won't? If it's heartless to say that everybody should share in some of the pain, then I suppose I'm heartless. I very much hope that nobody loses their job. But if jobs are to be lost, I don't see why the university should be held cmpletely harmless while other agencies and their employees suffer.

vega 9 years, 10 months ago

"to make do with less disposable income." ????Many Kansas do not have any portion of their income "disposable" in any way - unless the mortgage, food, gas are disposable expenses?????

Mike Hoeflich 9 years, 10 months ago

Tenstring: actually at the law faculty meeting last week when we discussed possible budget cuts, several faculty members offered to do just that and, in fact, our dean, Gail Agrawal, told us that she had asked the Provost to reduce her salary to help pay for the cuts. I cannot speak for everyone, but some of us are willing to take a pay cut if it helps to reduce layoffs, but not just for TAs and lecturers but also for staff, who are just as important to KU. I believe strongly that if we are truly a community then we need to all work together and share the pain--and the good times as well, when they return as I believe they will.

Doug Harvey 9 years, 10 months ago

So . . . tenure-track faculty will volunteer to take a small cut in pay so lecturers and TAs can remain employed and tuition raises will be reduced, right? :>) I'd like to be a fly on the wall if/when that option is raised at the faculty senate.

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