KU faculty leader proposes reduction to athletics department budget to lessen need for academic budget cuts

An aerial photo of the University of Kansas campus in August 2015.

A plan to reduce a proposed $20 million budget cut at the University of Kansas would involve Kansas Athletics losing its $1.5 million a year subsidy it receives from the university.

Also proposed: A multimillion dollar increase in funding from the Kansas University Endowment Association, the sale of a KU jet that critics contend costs the university millions of dollars in unneeded expenses, and the creation of a $1.5 million a year contribution from KU Athletics to the university’s general operating budget.

Kirk McClure, president of the University of Kansas Faculty Senate, emailed a letter Tuesday afternoon to all faculty members with his suggestions for reducing KU’s $20 million budget cut by half.

“Within minutes, I received 56 replies. Everyone of them in support. There was no opposition,” McClure said.

photo by: Contributed photo

Kirk McClure is the president of Faculty Senate at KU.

University administrators, however, have not agreed to the suggestions. A spokesman with Kansas Athletics Inc. on Wednesday stopped short of supporting the proposed changes to the Kansas Athletics Inc. budget.

“We appreciate Professor McClure’s thoughts on the university budget,” said Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director for public affairs. “We believe a strong athletics program is inextricably linked to KU’s mission as a research institution and member of the Association of American Universities.”

An attempt to get Marchiony to clarify whether that statement meant the athletic department was opposed, supportive or undecided on the proposal was unsuccessful.

McClure came up with the three proposals, which he has discussed with Chancellor Douglas Girod and Interim Provost Carl Lejuez, following an announcement in late May by university administrators that KU’s Lawrence campus would need to take a 6 percent budget cut for fiscal year 2019.

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

While the cuts are expected to impact every department, McClure, a professor in the Urban Planning Program, is concerned it will be the students and faculty who will bear the burden of those cuts.

“I’ve been here 31 years, and we haven’t had a meaningful raise in 10 years,” McClure said. “The university has us working under an austerity budget.

“I have to be a janitor for my own classroom — I didn’t spend 11 years in college to be a janitor in my classroom. So it gets you when you see a $100 million dollar athletic corporation not making a contribution.

“Or when you see the Central District built and now we can’t afford it. The existing faculty don’t feel they need to bear the brunt. We didn’t make that mistake, don’t expect us to pay for it, but that’s exactly what this budget cut is saying to us.”

McClure’s first suggestion is to have KU Endowment Association refinance the Central District’s Integrated Science Building out of its resources. The new building is costing KU about $7 million a year in debt and operating expenses, KU administrators have said.

“KU Endowment holds about $1.8 billion in assets and provides about $185 million annually in direct support to KU,” McClure said. He believes if KUEA absorbed the cost of the building it would amount to about a 4 percent increase in its contributions to the university.

“It’s unacceptable for the faculty and staff to be expected to absorb a 6 percent budget cut without KUEA increasing its contribution,” McClure said.

KU Endowment did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s request for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

His second suggestion is to have Kansas Athletics, Inc. make a contribution to the university.

Currently KU gives KAI about $1.5 million per year. Yet KAI realizes about $100 million per year in revenue. He noted that the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas both make contributions to their schools, as do several Division 1 schools.

McClure wants the $1.5 KU gives to KAI to be eliminated and instead have KAI contribute $1.5 million to the university.

“That would be a 3 percent adjustment in the KAI budget,” McClure said. “Again, this scale of adjustment would be proportionate to the cuts that the faculty and staff must absorb.”

The third suggestion is to reconfigure the University’s aircraft.

“The primary user of KU’s jet is KAI, which does not compensate the university,” McClure said.

Related story

March 1, 2015 — Taxpayers footing the bill for hundreds of flights that KU defends as essential

Getting rid of the jet had been discussed during a budget information session in early June. At that time Lejuez said administrators would look into it and get back to faculty by July 1.

McClure did hear from the chancellor on July 1, and he believes Girod is working toward changes.

“I don’t object to aircraft,” McClure said.

The engineering department owns a Cessna twin-prop airplane that can land in many more locations than the jet. Flight times may be slightly longer, but it would be a fraction of the cost, McClure said.

“Come on,” McClure said, laughing. “If I have to clean my classroom, they can ride in a prop plane.”

McClure knows cutting the budget is necessary. However, his fear is the full brunt of the 6 percent budget cut will be borne by faculty, staff and academic programs if steps are not taken immediately to adopt his suggestion to reconfigure the budget.

A budget conversation will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Monday in Spahr Engineering Classroom, Eaton Hall. Lejuez will review the latest information about budget cuts affecting the Lawrence campus and answer questions. All members of the university community are invited to the presentation.

Related stories: The finances of KU Athletics

In September 2017, when KU announced plans to build $350 million in new facilities, primarily for football, it marked the beginning of one of the biggest financial bets the program has ever made. The Journal-World decided to study the financial books, talk to leaders and give readers a better understanding of the money game that is constantly a part of big-time college athletics. These are the resulting stories from spring 2018.

April 29 — A look at the finances of Kansas Athletics: Rising revenues, soaring costs, big bets

April 29 — KU basketball saves athletic department budget, allows leaders to dream of ‘blue sky potential’

May 6 — KU football ticket sales down about $6 million per year; some question whether $300 million in new facilities will help

May 13 — Administrative salaries jumped by 42 percent in a single year at Kansas Athletics; KU salaries top K-State’s

May 13 — How much does KU spend on athletics? More than the city spends on police, fire and roads, but returns are big too

May 20 — Girod: Athletics important to KU, but there is a “disconnect” too

May 20 — Should KU be worried about getting dumped from a Power 5 Conference? The financial stakes are huge

May 22 — Rock Chalk Park started as $39 million deal for KU; now it may top $100 million after KU allowed lease to be changed


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