State asks universities to prepare for budget cuts of 7 percent over two years

Kansas University is staring down the barrel of “painful” staff cuts and program eliminations.

Provost Richard Lariviere announced late Monday that the state has asked regents universities to cut budgets by up to 7 percent during the next two years.

The state budget officer has requested that 2 percent, or $5.5 million, be cut from KU’s budget this year and another 5 percent, or $9.2 million, be cut from the proposed 2009-10 budget. The figures include an internal reallocation of $2.6 million in 2008-09 and $4.5 million in 2009-10 to address expected higher energy costs, he said.

Lariviere said he was encouraging university leadership to avoid cuts in “key instructional programs” and major research projects. However, he said it would be impossible to make cuts this large without having some sort of harmful effect on everyone involved.

“Students will be affected by any major cuts we have to endure,” he said. “We’re here for the students, so when the university’s budget is cut, the students are affected.”

Regent Dan Lykins said the board wasn’t looking forward to the cuts it was going to have to make as it began to look not just at KU’s budget, but all the other schools which fall under the regents’ direction.

“It’s not like we have a lot of fat to trim off anywhere,” Lykins said. “We’ll be cutting into some bone.”

This is the first time the state has asked for major budget cuts since 2002 when KU took a $7.1 million hit. As a result, the university cut 54 positions and the Museum of Anthropology shut its doors. Tuition also saw a 25 percent tuition jump, with an in-state student paying $2,921 compared to $2,333 the previous year.

Lariviere said it did not appear that the budget shuffling would affect current tuition.

The majority of the cuts likely will be made in the administrative areas, he said, which means that the university would be forced to cut at least some employee positions. He said it was too early to guess at numbers.

“There’s no way we can’t cut some employee positions and services,” he said.

University spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said KU would look at each area before recommending cuts. Meanwhile, Lariviere said he was asking KU leaders to cut entire projects rather than simply trimming from each area.

“It will be painful,” he said. “However, this is to stop cuts from occurring across the board.”

Bretz later announced that libraries, student financial aid and utilities would be sheltered from the cuts.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced in June that all state-funded areas would have to tighten their belts as the state’s economy continued to slump.

University officials are expected to have proposed cuts to the Board of Regents for review before their retreat Aug. 19-21 in Wichita.