The $1.3 million in program cuts announced Wednesday at the University of Kansas were unfortunate but necessary after Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature slashed state funding for KU by $7 million in May.
One can only hope that Brownback and the legislative leadership respect KU’s efforts to reduce spending and, as Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little requested last month, resist cutting the state’s flagship university further in the coming session.
The cuts announced by Provost Neeli Bendapudi Wednesday include $400,200 in the “faculty cluster hire program”; $311,600 for the Kansas Geological Survey; $300,000 in International Programs; $100,000 each to Kansas Public Radio and to Audio Reader, a reading service for the visually impaired; and $70,000 to the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute located on the Edwards campus in Overland Park.
Unfortunately, there are more cuts to come. Bendapudi said the program cuts announced Wednesday make up less than half of what will need to be made on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses this year. Additional cuts will total nearly $3.8 million, or about 59 percent of all the cuts this year. Those cuts won’t be announced until after the official enrollment headcount is completed in September because funding for several programs is based on enrollment.
The cuts announced Wednesday are significant. The Kansas Geological Survey has played a critical role in identifying and monitoring an alarming increase in earthquake activity in south-central Kansas related to oil and gas exploration. As a result of the cuts, the survey’s executive director, Rex Buchannan, said KGS plans to expand its branch office in Wichita, which houses a unit that monitors oil and gas wells, will likely be delayed. The Audio Reader program relies heavily on university funding, and the $100,000 slashed represents 20 percent of those funds.
The faculty cluster hire is a program designed to hire faculty from a variety of disciplines who focus on a common theme, such as water resources, to generate more innovative research. With the $400,200 cut, three of the five remaining positions in the program will go unfilled.
Frustratingly, state cuts to higher education were not equal. In May, Brownback ordered $97 million in spending cuts to the state budget in order to balance it with expected revenues for this fiscal year. That translated to a 4 percent cut for most state agencies, including $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 because of a stipulation the Legislature inserted in the budget bill to protect smaller universities that rely more heavily on state funding than the larger research institutions do.
KU and the state’s other universities are to be commended for their ability to adjust to the continuing decline in state support. Higher education has done its part. The challenge is now for the governor and the Legislature to find another way to balance the state’s budget other than slashing the institutions most critical to job and income creation and, ultimately, economic recovery.