With fiscal year 2019 officially here, details on KU’s $20M budget cuts remain scarce

photo by: Nick Krug

The Memorial Campanile on the campus of Kansas University, Wednesday, July 22, 2015.

In late May, the University of Kansas announced plans to trim $20 million from its budget beginning in fiscal year 2019.

At the time, interim Provost Carl Lejuez attributed the need for budget reductions to “the many long-term commitments and investments that each year have exceeded revenue,” combined with institutional budgeting practices “inconsistent with the current challenges of higher education funding” and a decade-long downtrend in state funding.

Now, with the new fiscal year as of Sunday, few details have emerged on the nature of those sweeping cuts, which amount to an approximate 5.9 percent reduction across the board for all departments and units on the Lawrence campus.

So, in an effort to see how the budget planning was coming along, the Journal-World reached out to several of these departments over the past week. A spokesman for the School of Engineering suggested via email to check back with him later in the process, while others referred questions to Joe Monaco, KU’s director of strategic communications.

Monaco, in an email exchange, emphasized that he couldn’t speak on behalf of individual deans and department heads.

“[I]ndividual units are determining how to implement their budget reductions, and doing so on different timelines, so it’s not possible to summarize this for you,” Monaco wrote.

Instead, Monaco said the next update on the budget planning process would likely come in August during a budget workshop hosted by Lejuez. A date for that workshop has yet to be announced.

Monaco also explained that, while cuts will begin to be implemented in the fiscal year starting July 1, department leaders have an entire year to finalize those decisions. Some reductions could potentially be determined as late as June 2019, and it’s unclear how much information will be shared with the public between now and then, including which positions might be vulnerable to layoffs.

Lejuez, however, has provided some hints, including comments during a June town hall meeting that suggested hiring of new faculty would be “a very likely casualty.”

In a follow-up message sent to faculty and staff the following week, Lejuez returned to the “substantial effect on faculty hiring” in the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.

“Given the magnitude of our reduction and the limited degrees of freedom many units have to make cuts, most units will not be able to fill open faculty lines this year,” Lejuez wrote. “Put plainly, faculty hiring this coming year will be impossible in most units and extremely limited in other units where resources such as endowment and grant funds are available to support a hire.”

Lejuez also said he expected faculty hiring to begin “returning to normal” the following school year, in 2019-2020, while adding that he recognized “that even one year of limited hiring” would impact KU’s research and teaching mission.

While the Journal-World’s inquiries into the budget planning process haven’t yielded much, the university’s 2018 operating budget provides some context. Namely, what a 5.9 percent cut might look like in a smaller department versus one of the university’s larger and more generously endowed academic units.

For example, the School of Engineering’s operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 totaled $33,513,788, with nearly all of that designated for the Lawrence campus. Based on this figure, a 5.9 percent cut amounts to $1.97 million that must be trimmed from the school’s budget.

In comparison, there’s the School of Social Welfare. The school’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $5,307,017. A reduction of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $313,000.

Here’s a rundown of KU’s other professional schools and its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, using information from the university’s FY 2018 operating budget. As a reminder, the actual cuts will be different from what is shown here, but this list is meant to give you an idea how cuts may impact the various schools.

• The School of Pharmacy’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $14,674,050. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $865,000.

• The School of Music’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $8,090,242. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $477,000.

• The School of Education’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $16,547,720. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $976,000.

• The School of Law’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $11,958,869. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $705,000.

• The School of Business’ total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $26,235,116. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $1.54 million.

• The School of Architecture and Design’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $7,399,355. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $436,000.

• The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $112,623,431. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $6.6 million.

• The School of Journalism’s total operating expenses in fiscal year 2018 were $5,417,017. A budget cut of roughly 5.9 percent would equal about $319,000.

In his email exchange with the Journal-World, Monaco stressed that budget cuts likely would not be announced near the start of fiscal year 2019.

“[I]ndividual units can manage their FY19 budget reduction in different ways and on different timelines,” Monaco said. “For example, some units may use one-time money (like carryover funds) while they make more permanent decisions during the coming months.”

In his message to faculty and staff June 13, Lejuez said the next steps in the process would include budget information sessions on a regular basis over the coming school year “to provide updates and the opportunity to dig deeper into the details of our budget and financial decisions together.”

In the weeks ahead, Lejuez said, his office would work with deans and department leaders to finalize reduction amounts for each unit. His message also said deans and vice provosts would be in touch soon with details about their process and plans.

Lejuez also stressed transparency and a commitment to openly sharing information with faculty and staff. A common thread in the feedback he had received so far, he said, “is the importance of knowing what went wrong and how we can ensure something like this will not happen again.”

“My goal is to move KU to a position of strength and be as transparent as possible with our financial information, both in the town hall but also in everything we do moving forward,” he wrote. “This transparency means openly sharing the information needed to inform you and answer your questions regarding how we got to where we are now and continuing this practice with all our key decisions as they are made.”

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