Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway is preparing for the worst.
While a possible two-year, 7 percent budget crunch for state universities isn't set in stone, Hemenway said he wants to gird the university for some rocky times.
On July 14, Kansas budget director Duane Goossen asked state colleges and universities to prepare a list of possible cuts. Higher education officials were asked to prepare for two scenarios: a possible 2 percent cut this year and a possible 5 percent cut the next. For KU, that's an estimated $14.7 million out of its coffers.
"This is difficult," Hemenway said after the Aug. 20 Kansas Board of Regents retreat. "You're planning in the abstract, so you have to be careful."
Officials have been relatively mum when it comes to what may be cut.
Provost Richard Lariviere said it would be irresponsible for officials to make any specifics public. His concern, he said, was what would happen if an area were named and it wasn't affected later on. It wouldn't be good for an already skittish university, he said.
But what is known isn't promising.
When Hemenway presented KU's recommendations, he painted a gloomy picture for higher education in Kansas if the cuts were implemented.
For the 2 percent cut, KU Medical Center and several schools on the Lawrence campus imposed a temporary hiring freeze. Funding for expansion of library materials and technology upgrades were delayed. Operations budgets were tightened.
It's the estimated 5 percent that's the kicker.
Between 100 and 125 employees on the Lawrence campus could lose their jobs. Another 125 to 150 would be cut from the Med Center. While Hemenway stopped just short of naming what areas might see a cut, he said they could eliminate years of work recruiting and hiring faculty.
"We funded 100 new faculty positions with tuition enhancement funds over a five-year period," Hemenway said. "A reduction of this magnitude could reverse some of those gains in one year."
That means fewer professors for more students.
Technology budgets would be trimmed further. The steps KU made in recent upgrades were modest, Hemenway said, and cutting back on technology could result in a student body ill-prepared for the technology-rich corporate world.
Kansas State University offered similar predictions. President Jon Wefald said if he cut 180 jobs, it would result in the elimination of about 400 course offerings. By losing the professors and courses, he said, the student-to-professor ratio rises.
"It likely means that some students will see an increase in the time it takes to graduate," Wefald told regents, "because courses needed for completion are unavailable."
University spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said KU didn't have a number of how many courses would be affected if the Lawrence campus eliminated 125 positions.
Looking to the past
While the outlook may be vague, some perspective can be gained from past cuts.
The last major budget crunch came in June 2002 when then-Gov. Bill Graves directed KU to slash 3 percent of its state funds. The $7.1 million cut resulted in 22 layoffs and the elimination of 32 vacant positions.
The Museum of Anthropology closed, state funding for the Paleontological Institute was slashed and a Kansas Geological Survey department and a team that removed asbestos from campus buildings were eliminated.
That August, Graves announced another $1.2 million cut. Thirteen employees were fired and 38 vacant positions eliminated.
KU now faces almost double that.
"The magnitude is such that we couldn't absorb these by creative administration," Lariviere said.
Meanwhile, state officials have said that the cuts aren't a given. Goossen presented the regents with several scenarios where the state's budget could correct itself and all the stress would be for naught.
There are high hopes, Goossen said, that the privilege fees casino developers pay the state could result in an $80 million shot in the arm this year. If developers manage to set up temporary casinos, it could generate even more. He said they also hoped the revenue estimates were too low and the economy would pick back up.
Academic officials said they couldn't afford to be so optimistic.
"We'll make the cuts," Fort Hays State University President Ed Hammond said. "But we'll pay the piper for doing it."