Editorial: Fiscal restraint at KU welcome

The university’s commitment to cut $20 million from its budget will lead to a healthier institution.

The University of Kansas’ announcement that it will trim $20 million from its budget for the coming year demonstrates a renewed commitment to fiscal restraint that hasn’t always been apparent at the Lawrence campus.

Though the university did not reveal specifics on how the $20 million in cuts would be made, the university made clear the move was necessary to put the university’s budget in order. The cuts amount to nearly 6 percent of the budget and will be applied across all departments on campus.

“Staying the current course is not an option,” Interim Provost Carl Lejuez said. “If we make no changes in the coming year, we will have overspent our budget with no remaining balances to support this overspending, and operations will be short a minimum of $50 million within five years. Additionally, spreading the cut over several years is not an option. This tactic costs us more financially; perpetuates a climate of uncertainty about job security, raises and tuition costs; and keeps us in a constant state of want and need rather than advancing us toward a position of stability that we all deserve.”

The announcement of the cuts comes barely a week after Chancellor Douglas Girod fired Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger for failing to make adequate progress on athletic department initiatives. That decision, too, appears to have been about the bottom line — KU Athletics has seen its financial fortunes wane with increasing expenses, revenue declines driven by its football team’s lackluster performance and the inability to raise funds for $350 million in athletic facility improvements, including the renovation of Memorial Stadium.

After seeming content to mostly observe during his first year in the chancellor’s role, Girod appears ready to make his mark on the university. The new chancellor isn’t shy about imposing fiscal discipline at KU, eschewing debt, stopping overspending and holding leadership’s feet to the fire on keeping spending in line with revenues.

“This year’s budget reduction will be difficult, but combined with a new budget model, this is the right strategy to address our challenges and put us in a position to fully align our resources with our core mission,” Girod said. “I applaud Provost Lejuez and his team for their vision and leadership, and I am confident KU will be a stronger university for having gone through this process.”

KU did not say how many jobs would be affected by the changes, and no doubt some will. That’s unfortunate.

However, after a year in which the university has come under heavy criticism for the money it spends on the KU jet and for continuing to pay former Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little her more than $500,000 salary for a year after she stepped down, better fiscal prudence was and is necessary. Bringing expenses more in line with revenues should improve the university’s ongoing relationship with the Legislature and, most importantly, it will help to slow the increase in tuition costs.

Girod has made a couple of bold moves on KU’s behalf in recent days. Fortunately for the university, they appear to be the right ones.

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