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.