State universities have done a good job managing record budget cuts, but their work may come back to haunt them, higher education officials say.
“You try to make sure that the pain is avoided,” Kansas Board of Regents Vice Chairman Gary Sherrer said in speaking to university leaders at the regents retreat last week in Wichita.
But, he said, if legislators don’t realize that the 12 percent cut in state general funds over the past year has hurt the quality of higher education in Kansas, they will do nothing about it when the next legislative session starts in January.
“They don’t care about the emotional pain of your faculty,” Sherrer said.
What lawmakers will understand is when universities start considering a limit on enrollment, which means some Kansas taxpayers’ children won’t be able to go to a certain school. Or that students may be turned away from nursing programs because of budget cuts. Or that graduation rates will decrease because students aren’t getting the kind of attention they need.
To that end, the universities and regents will compile information and data on the effects of budget cuts on operations and students in preparation for the upcoming session. The schools have already listed areas where they have cut, but many haven’t stated the effect of those cuts.
Sherrer said the effort by the universities and regents to inform the Legislature is not meant as a scare tactic, but it is just being honest.
“It’s important for the regents to be aggressive in getting the message out there between now and January,” he said.
Regent Donna Shank said that in the minds of some, higher education faces an image problem because new buildings are being constructed on campuses at the same time that universities are complaining about a lack of funding.
“We have this perception issue,” Shank said.
But most people don’t realize that many of those buildings are privately funded, university officials say.
Another perception problem erupted last week when it was reported that former KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway will earn $340,352 per year for the next two academic years as part of a compensation package. Hemenway is currently on a one-year sabbatical.
State Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, who is chair of the House-Senate Legislative Post Audit Committee, criticized the deal.
“We’re dealing with trying to save every dollar we can. I can’t explain that to taxpayers,” Peck said.
But Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Reginald Robinson said the package for Hemenway was not out of line.
Next month, the regents will make its budget request to Gov. Mark Parkinson.
Fort Hays State University President Ed Hammond said that once the state’s revenue picture starts to improve, higher education needs to position itself to make up for the recent cuts.
“We are going to be far behind if we don’t start articulating our position,” he said.