147 KU employees set to retire by end of 2020 through voluntary separation incentive program

photo by: Conner Mitchell/Journal-World

On the first day of fall classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a class takes place outside of Budig Hall at the University of Kansas on the morning of Aug. 24, 2020.

One of the cost-cutting measures the University of Kansas implemented over the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s strain on financial resources will result in the retirement of at least 147 employees — and most of their positions will not be filled — KU announced Wednesday.

The university announced in June that a voluntary separation incentive program to retire by the end of 2020 would be available to employees who met certain criteria, such as being 62 years old or older, serving 10 years or longer at KU or another Kansas state agency, and being active participants in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System or in the Kansas Board of Regents mandatory retirement plan.

The program was announced weeks after KU estimated it would face a $120 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year due to losses attributed directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. That estimate was largely based on tuition projections from an anticipated enrollment drop that ultimately didn’t materialize to the level KU officials and higher education experts initially feared. Since it announced an overall enrollment drop of only 2.7% in early October, KU has not yet released a new projection of its budget shortfall.

Overall, 597 employees met the criteria to take the voluntary buyout, which amounts to a lump-sum cash payment of $100,000 or an employee’s fiscal year 2021 budgeted base salary — whichever is lower — KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said in a message to faculty and staff members Wednesday.

Of those, 166 employees, or 27.8%, applied for the voluntary separation program and 155 were approved, she said.

Here’s who was eligible and applied for the buyout program:

• Over 420 staff members were eligible for the program, 151 applied, 140 were approved, and 134 have submitted notice of retirement.

• Over 170 faculty members were eligible, 15 applied and were approved, and 13 submitted notice of retirement.

• Currently, 147 employees will retire through the voluntary separation program and will have an additional step to complete after Dec. 31 to receive the payout.

In the message to faculty and staff, Bichelmeyer said that unit leaders across campus have asked to fill roughly 20% of the positions vacated through the program, but those discussions are still ongoing, and many of the roles will remain vacant.

“All of these factors will have an impact on the final savings as a result of the program and will play a role in what services and program are offered in the future,” she said. “I want to thank all of you for your patience and offer my appreciation for those who considered this option. As in previous times when the university has offered VSIPs, there is a pressing need that makes the program a viable option, but that doesn’t mean the individual decisions are necessarily easy. This effort will help KU for years to come.

KU last offered a similar buyout program in 2018 when undergoing a $20 million budget cut at the direction of former interim Provost Carl Lejuez. That program, which unlike the 2020 offering was not an option for staff members, saw 65 full program applicants out of 267 eligible faculty members, the Journal-World previously reported.

The newspaper reported in June that KU anticipates the voluntary separation program being a one-time option that it won’t offer again “in the foreseeable future,” according to a Frequently Asked Questions section on the program’s website.

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