KU showing effects of prolonged budget squeeze

As Kansas University continues to strain in the face of the realities of state budget cuts, indications of the effects are all over campus.

The school will absorb another 1.193 percent reduction in its state funding for the 2012 fiscal year that begins this month.

Sure, there are the big things. Rodolfo Torres, a KU math professor who will serve as the faculty senate president this year, is quick to mention that faculty and staff have gone three years without salary increases.

“It’s really affecting the morale of the faculty,” he said, and he has heard of some who have left the university for higher-paying jobs.

KU recently approved limited raises as part of a tuition increase.

But KU is seeing all kinds of other signs of scrimping, saving and increased efficiencies all over campus. Here’s a quick look at just some:

• Mark Reiske, associate director of design and construction management, said that the university’s utility budget has been strained at times.

The university designates a set amount of money for utilities each year, he said. Thermostats in classrooms are controlled centrally.

“Those have crept up in cooling seasons and crept down in heating seasons,” he said.

Also, some classrooms that are inefficient to keep cool haven’t been used this summer, he said, including some rooms in the military science building and in Summerfield Hall.

• KU Libraries is one area where budgets have been held stable, said Lorraine Haricombe, the dean of libraries. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t had to make cutbacks. As journal subscription prices have continued to go up, the libraries consulted faculty members to see which journals — both print and electronic — are in the highest demand.

And the libraries just began offering donors an opportunity to sponsor a journal subscription.

“It’s a fairly new idea,” Haricombe said, adding that “a couple” of donors have signed up so far. It’s not a model the libraries can rely on into the future, she said, to ensure that the most relevant journals are produced.

• In KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the overall number of faculty members has shrunk by 20 since the budget cuts began in 2009, said Danny Anderson, the college’s dean.

The college has tried to avoid using adjunct faculty and graduate students to replace the teaching loads, Anderson said. Some faculty have voluntarily taught overloads, but, in many cases, class sizes are growing and courses are being offered less frequently.

• Matt Cook, an information specialist working in the biology department, said he didn’t know how cuts were affecting the IT department on a grand scale.

But he is seeing signs of decreased staffing levels in his area — the two-man team that works on IT issues for the biology department would soon be shrinking to one-and-a-half, he said, as his co-worker would be splitting time between biology and chemistry.

• In KU’s School of Pharmacy, the school is cutting its continuing education for licensed pharmacists as a cost-saving move, said Ken Audus, KU’s dean of pharmacy.

Many members of the industry offer the training for free, which is not something the school could do, Audus said.

Though he said he has heard complaints, he said the decision helped preserve other things the school was doing.

“That’s not something you want to put on the backs of students,” Audus said.

• Even in places at the university that aren’t seeing budget cuts, that doesn’t mean they’re not looking for ways to save.

At Watkins Community Health Center, student fees and fees for service pay the bills, and they’re holding relatively steady, said Joe Gillespie, Watkins associate director of student health services.

But they’re still moving away from most paper forms to cut back on costs. Student forms such as personal and family health histories must be filled out online now, he said, through the student’s personal online portal. Appointments may also be made online, he said.

l In the office of research and graduate studies, some staff members have left for higher-paying jobs, said Kevin Boatright, communications director for the office.

Some of those have even taken other jobs at KU to obtain a salary raise, he said.

As the move to replace those staff members has been slower, more and more of the administrative work associated with research grants is being passed on to faculty members, he said.

The office is managing well overall, in spite of those challenges, he said.

By Andy Hyland

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