As Kansas University leaders take scalpels to their budgets following cuts approved by the Kansas Legislature, it’s not yet clear how those cuts might make life different in the coming school year for students and faculty on the Lawrence campus.
But many officials share a similar fear about what might await KU down the line: a smaller, perhaps weaker, faculty.
Depending on whether Gov. Sam Brownback is successful in his announced fight to restore the state’s higher-education funding, departments across KU’s Lawrence campus are likely to have to leave many vacant faculty and staff positions unfilled over the next two years.
Because budgets at several KU schools are devoted almost entirely to salaries, officials say their only option for making cuts would be to reduce faculty and staff over the next two years.
“Our legislative friends talk about fat, and I think, ‘I wish I knew where it was, because I’d cut it,’ ” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of KU’s School of Education.
Some university leaders say they fear the cuts will make it a challenge to recruit, or keep, the university's most talented faculty at a time when KU is trying to improve both its teaching and its research reputation.
“It’s just a momentum-killer,” said Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs.
Adding up the subtractions
On the Lawrence campus, KU’s state funding will be cut by about $3.3 million for 2013-14, followed by another $2 million in 2014-15, if nothing changes. About $460,000 of this year’s cuts will postpone some planned new student-support projects, but the rest will come out of KU budgets.
KU’s central administration will cut its 2013-14 budget by a bit more than 1.5 percent, while academic units will face cuts of about half that, around 0.8 percent, on average.
“That was intentional,” Caboni said, “as part of really protecting those academic units and the core mission of the institution.” Those academic units were assigned different percentages of cuts based on their research productivity and changes in enrollment, Caboni said.
The growing School of Engineering received the smallest percentage cut, at about 0.4 percent, while the School of Journalism must cut the highest percentage, just under 1 percent.
How exactly those academic cuts are absorbed is up to deans and other unit leaders, so KU does not have a total number of faculty or staff reductions to report.
For KU’s largest academic unit, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the cut of about 0.8 percent for this year will total nearly $900,000.
Because it’s too late to change things like teaching assignments and assistantships for the coming year, that means the College will just have to get by without much in contingency funds, Dean Danny Anderson said.
But if the 2014-15 reductions continue as scheduled, Anderson said he’ll have to make some permanent cuts.
The College’s staff already is stretched thin, he said, and much of its staff will be reorganized this year into a shared service center that will aim to serve all its departments more efficiently.
So he’ll have to reduce the number of professors he employs. Of the 20 to 25 faculty spots that are likely to open up from retirements this year, he probably will be able to replace only about half, he said.
That will happen, KU officials hope, as the university’s enrollment begins to rebound.
“It’s paradoxical that at the same time that you’re having success with your recruitment, you’re having to think about reducing your faculty,” Anderson said.
And because of a lack of contingency funds, he’ll have less money available to try to keep top faculty from leaving for other institutions by offering additional research funding or other perks.
As many other states, including all four that border Kansas, are increasing their higher-education funding this year, Anderson said he worries he might face more attempts to raid his faculty than usual.
“Most states, where there is not a reduction in funding in higher education, many of them are looking at this as an opportunity to recruit strong faculty from other universities,” Anderson said.
At the School of Architecture, leaders are leaving a few staff positions vacant and continuing to use more adjunct instructors to teach courses, associate dean Mike Swann said.
The school already has four fewer full-time faculty than it did before earlier cuts over the past few years, he said. Plans to hire a new visual communications professor are on hold.
“The fewer tenured faculty we have, the less ability we have to produce the research that we want to have going on,” Swann said.
The likely reduction in faculty if the 2014-15 cuts stand would blunt the impact of the university’s first widescale hiring effort in years, which aims to add 64 professors.
That includes 12 “Foundation Professors,” elite researchers recruited from other universities. None have yet been hired.
And several officials said they worry about how the cuts make KU look as a potential employer.
“If I’m thinking about coming to the University of Kansas either as a prospective faculty member or a prospective staff member, how am I supposed to read the Legislature’s decision?” Caboni said.