KU announces cuts to public radio, geological survey and other programs; more cuts on the way

Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas Geological Survey are among the programs at the University of Kansas that will take significant budget cuts this year as the university tries to absorb a $7 million funding cut from the state that Gov. Sam Brownback ordered in May.

Meanwhile, officials at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., said they will face significant hardships this year as they try to absorb an additional $3.7 million cut in state funding for the medical school.

The programs facing cuts on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses were part of a list of centralized targeted cuts totaling nearly $1.3 million that KU Provost Neeli Bendapudi announced Wednesday.

But she indicated more adjustments will be made to academic units and other KU programs as the year progresses.

“Despite these measures, unfortunately, we will have to leave several open positions unfilled across campus,” she said in a statement provided to the Journal-World. “We recognize this will reduce some levels of service. It’s more important now than ever that we function as a team and support one another.”

The $1.3 million cuts announced Wednesday make up less than half of all the cuts that will need to be made on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses this year, Bendapudi said. Additional cuts to administrative and academic units as well as other line-item cuts, which were not outlined Wednesday, will total nearly $3.8 million, or about 59 percent of all the cuts this year.

The cuts announced Wednesday include:

• $400,200 in the “faculty cluster hire program.”

• $311,600 for the Kansas Geological Survey.

• $300,000 reduction for International Programs.

• $100,000 each to Kansas Public Radio and to Audio Reader, a reading service for the blind and visually impaired.

• And $70,000 to the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute located on the Edwards campus in Overland Park.

Jill Hummels, a spokeswoman for the provost’s office, said the remaining cuts won’t be announced until after the official enrollment headcount is completed in September because funding for several programs, including programs in the Business and Engineering schools, is based on enrollment.

She said the faculty cluster hire program is part of KU’s strategic plan known as “Bold Aspirations.” The idea was to hire faculty from a variety of disciplines who focus on a common theme, such as water resources, in order to generate more innovative research.

The $400,200 cut will mean three of the five remaining budgeted positions will go unfilled, Bendapudi said.

Reaction from program directors

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, said the cut to his program will not have an immediate impact on its major operations, which include monitoring earthquake activity in south-central Kansas and annual measurements of water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas.

But he said it could delay KGS’s plans to expand its branch office in Wichita, which houses a unit that monitors oil and gas wells. And it will probably hurt the program’s ability to replace and retain its scientific staff.

“The big deal here is not this one cut, but the whole series of them,” Buchanan said. “The cumulative cuts are what’s crippling.”

Dan Skinner, general manager of Kansas Public Radio, said direct university support amounts to only about 24 percent of the radio station’s total budget, but the cut to KPR represents one-fourth of that university support.

Audio Reader, on the other hand, relies more heavily on university support, and the $100,000 cut represents one-fifth of the university’s support.

“I just found out today and I’ve been letting my staff know today, so haven’t been able to determine exactly what it means for us,” Skinner said. “We’ll examine our budget and look for cost savings. It is significant but not devastating. We’ll still be able to provide a quality product. But we’ll have to look for cost control and additional fundraising.”

Audio Reader is a broadcast service that is carried on a subfrequency of the radio station’s FM signal. It is accessible through special receivers that are made available at no charge for people who qualify. It is also available through streaming audio online and with some smartphone apps.

Skinner said the service, which is available statewide, serves at least 8,000 individuals. It relies on a large pool of volunteers who read books and local newspapers on the air.

Skinner noted that Audio Reader’s annual fundraiser is scheduled for Sept. 9-10 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. “For Your Ears Only” is a sale of used audio equipment, turntables, vinyl records and other recordings.

Susan Gronbeck-Tedesco, associate vice provost for International Programs, said her department would absorb the cut by not filling seven of 13 positions that are currently vacant.

The International Programs unit operates the Applied English Center for non-English speaking students and scholars. It also recruits international students to study at KU and operates KU’s study abroad program.

Officials at the Fire and Rescue Training Institute were not immediately available Wednesday. The institute is part of the Department of Professional and Continuing Education.

KU Med Center

The announcement about cuts at the Lawrence campus came just days after Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor for the KU Medical Center, posted a statement on the medical school’s website saying the $3.7 million cuts at that campus would create serious difficulties this year.

“While our campus did what was necessary, these budget reductions have limited the institution’s ability to make important investments in the areas of personnel, infrastructure, outreach and new educational technologies and strategies,” he stated.

Although Girod did not provide specific dollar amounts for the cuts being made, he said they would include eliminating centrally funded salary increases; reductions in the number of support staff, reductions in slots for the M.D./Ph.D. program and the post-doctoral program; cuts to information technology; and reduced outreach throughout the state, including clinical outreach flights, teacher training programs and summer high school science programs.

Balancing state budget

In May, when Brownback signed the final budget bill that lawmakers passed, he also ordered $97 million in spending cuts to that budget in order to balance it with expected revenues for this fiscal year.

That translated to a 4 percent cut for most state agencies and programs other than K-12 education and public safety functions. That included 4 percent, or $23.6 million, to the six universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents.

KU and Kansas State University, however, took proportionately larger cuts of about 5 percent each. Republican leaders in the Legislature put that stipulation in the budget bill, knowing in advance that Brownback would have to order cuts, as a way to protect the smaller universities that rely more heavily on state funding for their overall operating budgets than the larger research institutions do.