KU lost over 1,400 employees in 2020; university not yet sharing 2021 employee data

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

The number of employees at the University of Kansas’ Lawrence campus decreased substantially between 2019 and 2020, according to employee headcount data. But it’s not yet clear how much more of an employee decrease KU will see after budget decisions are made this spring.

From 2019 to 2020, the number of employees at the University of Kansas’ Lawrence campus decreased by over 1,400, according to employee headcount data from KU’s Office of Analytics, Institutional Research & Effectiveness.

In 2019, KU had 9,972 employees. In 2020, that number decreased to 8,564, a difference of 1,408, or 14.1%. The data also shows that the Lawrence campus had fewer employees in 2020 then it did six years prior in 2014. In 2014, KU had 9,982 employees, which is 1,418 more employees than in 2020.

KU uploads faculty and staff headcounts as well as a full-time equivalency (FTE) metric each year in mid-October.

FTE data also shows a decrease in employees on the Lawrence campus from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, there were 5,540 FTE employees, and in 2020 there were 5,438 FTE employees, a decrease of 102, or 1.8%. The decrease in FTE employees from 2014 to 2020 is even greater. In 2014, there were 5,774 FTE employees, which is 336 more than in 2020.

The drop in the employee headcount and full-time equivalency in 2020 was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to budget issues exacerbated by the pandemic, KU implemented a hiring freeze in 2020, except for positions related to critical campus and community safety, continuity of critical research missions, continuity of critical education missions, continuity of critical business functions and contribution to critical health care and clinical missions. KU also authorized an accelerated retirement program in 2020 for eligible employees on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses.

As KU’s fiscal issues continue and budget decisions are made this spring, concerns about job security remain. KU employees have vocally opposed the Kansas Board of Regents’ temporary policy that would allow state universities more power to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees — including tenured faculty. And in March, KU’s union that represents graduate teaching assistants feared 40% of GTA positions at the university might be eliminated.

Hollie Hall, a KU Ph.D. student and graduate student body vice president, told the Journal-World on Thursday that GTA positions were looking more secure than once thought. But KU does have a transparency issue, she said, and could quell a lot of fears by improving communication.

“They just don’t explain enough as to what’s going on,” Hall said. “Someone like me won’t be anxious about it because I’m in the room with people — I get to speak to the administrators and know what’s going on.

“But Joe Bloggs down the street has no idea what’s going on,” Hall said, using a colloquial British phrase that is similar to the “average Joe” in American English. “So it’s the whole knowledge is power idea. Like, give people the knowledge so they understand what’s going on.”

Department leaders examining 5%, 10%, and 15% budget cuts

KU is not yet releasing information about how or whether its budget shortfall has affected the number of employees on campus in 2021.

After receiving multiple tips from readers about numerous KU employees losing their jobs, the Journal-World reached out to KU to ask for the number of people who have been let go, as well as the departments in which they worked.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a KU spokesperson, said that hundreds of individual departments across campus were currently working on their next fiscal year budgets, and that any decisions about dismissals would be made throughout the spring.

The Provost’s Office has asked leaders to examine what a 5%, 10%, or 15% cut would mean for their department or unit, Barcomb-Peterson said, “but the Provost’s Office is still in the process of working on what their cut would look like.”

When asked whether KU keeps a record of its total number of employees, Barcomb-Peterson directed the Journal-World to the employee data from the Office of Analytics, Institutional Research & Effectiveness. As noted, the most recent data is from October of 2020.

The Journal-World sent emails to the deans of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, School of Business, School of Engineering and School of Law to ask for the number of people who have been let go from their departments. Only one dean, Stephen Mazza of the School of Law, responded. He said that once final budget decisions were made, they would be reported by KU News.

The Journal-World is currently in the process of requesting payroll record data from KU to get a better understanding of how many employees the university has today compared to last year.

‘A lot of anxiety and worry’

Hall knows what it’s like to lose a position at KU.

As a Ph.D. student with a graduate teaching assistant position at the university, Hall used to pay no tuition. But when her GTA position was eliminated after the 2020 spring semester, she suddenly had to find around $9,000 per semester to pay tuition, she said.

“I was really stuck between a rock and a hard place because I can only work on campus and I can only work for 20 hours a week,” said Hall, who has those restrictions because she is an international student. “So I had to find an on-campus job, and KU was in a hiring freeze, so it made it much more difficult.”

Hall is a Ph.D. student in educational leadership and policy studies, but she had been a GTA in the humanities department. She said she believed her contract was not renewed due to low enrollment in the program in which she was teaching, combined with the low first-year student enrollment likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In February, the Kansas Board of Regents voted to approve KU’s recommendation to discontinue the humanities program due to low enrollment.

Hall was able to find an on-campus job as graduate student body vice president, and she spoke to the Journal-World Thursday about KU’s need to be more transparent about information related to potential budget cuts and layoffs.

“I think there’s a lot of anxiety and worry,” she said. “KU has not done the best job of communicating with students, staff and faculty, and the provost is aware of that and has spoken to me and explained that is something that KU is working on.”

Hall said she had not heard anything about recent faculty or staff layoffs, but she did say there has been “major anxiety” that GTAs with five-year contracts would lose their positions. That’s not the case, however, she said. Hall said the only GTAs who could lose their funding are those who are taking longer than five years to complete their Ph.D. or those who were on one-year contracts and teaching outside their own department, like Hall was. But decisions will be made on a department-by-department basis, Hall said, and KU is trying to find ways to help graduate students whose positions might be affected.

Hall said KU’s communication issues took away from the positive work that was being done.

“KU has had a problem with a lack of transparency,” Hall said. “It takes away the value of what people are doing behind the scenes because nobody can see it, and everybody just sees, ‘Oh, they don’t care about us.’ And that’s not necessarily true, but that’s what people are seeing because they are not preempting.”

Headcount and FTE data

Here is the overall employee headcount data from the Lawrence campus for the past seven years:

2014: 9,982

2015: 10,042

2016: 9,947

2017: 10,065

2018: 10,204

2019: 9,972

2020: 8,564

And here is the number of full-time equivalent employees on the campus for the past seven years:

2014: 5,774

2015: 5,758.5

2016: 5,732.3

2017: 5,606.1

2018: 5,639.5

2019: 5,540

2020: 5,438

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