Interim provost: After $20M budget cuts, KU will need to ‘say no’ more often

photo by: Associated Press

A bus passes in front of Strong Hall Nov. 16, 2015, on the University of Kansas campus.

If the University of Kansas is to remain financially healthy in the years ahead, KU leaders must learn to say “no,” interim Provost Carl Lejuez told the Journal-World earlier this week.

On Tuesday, KU announced plans to trim $20 million from its Lawrence campus budget for the fiscal year 2019. At the time, 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.

On Thursday, when pressed for details on these commitments and investments, Lejuez offered few, telling the Journal-World “there is no example or group of examples” he could point to.

“As a major public research university, we have made commitments and investments in facilities, programming and other infrastructure to support students, faculty and staff,” Lejuez wrote in an email. “Our commitments are all sound in their own right, and there are reasons to want to say ‘yes’ to all these things, but the current higher education funding situation means we may not be able to do so now, or we take longer before we support them.”

In other words, he added, “moving forward, we have to be more selective in what we say ‘yes’ to.”

photo by: University of Kansas

Carl Lejuez

Under former Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s leadership, the university ushered in a new wave of redevelopment projects and campus expansion. Perhaps the largest and most ambitious of these, the $350 million Central District redevelopment, was described by Gray-Little as the biggest and most complex project KU had undertaken in nearly a century.

That project, now almost fully completed, is part of an extensive portfolio of 50 capital improvement projects totaling $700 million completed during Gray-Little’s nine-year tenure.

As chancellor, Gray-Little led a record-setting $1.66 million fundraising campaign and an unprecedented modernization of KU’s several campuses. Since leaving the chancellor’s office last July, Gray-Little has remained at KU as “special advisor,” a role she is being paid $510,041 a year to perform. To be clear, the Board of Regents offered Gray-Little that salary — the same amount she was making as chancellor — as an “expression of our gratitude,” while KU itself was not involved with the decision.

In an interview with the Journal-World last month, current Chancellor Douglas Girod said KU would shift its focus in the years ahead from construction and expansion to “investing in people,” including areas like student experience, outreach and research.

The cuts amount to roughly 5.9 percent across all Lawrence campus departments and units, including central administration. The budget will be implemented July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

It’s unclear if the reductions will result in any layoffs. When asked if KU could name some of the specific programs and positions that might be vulnerable to cuts, Lejuez said all decisions will “depend on how individual deans and vice provosts decide to manage their budget reductions” over the upcoming fiscal year.

In the meantime, the Provost’s Office will be working “in close collaboration” with deans and vice provosts to manage those reductions “in a way that best preserves their units’ mission and core functions,” Lejuez said.

But Lejuez stressed that he would largely leave decisions up to departmental leaders.

“Deans and vice provosts know better than anyone the needs of their units and disciplines, so we don’t want central administration to micromanage their decisions,” he said in an email.

The reductions will not involve a formal approval process, he added.

“We aren’t stopping investment in research and education, but we will take a longer-term view in supporting these areas,” Lejuez wrote in an email. “Sometimes that may require us to say ‘no’ or delay opportunities so we are able to invest strategically in things that are most advantageous and timely for our students.”

Lejuez will also host a public discussion on the topic June 6 at 4 p.m. at the Kansas Union’s Alderson Auditorium, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd.


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