The reasons why we students choose to come to the University of Kansas vary widely. We want to stay close to the communities where some of us were raised. Great ideas in the classroom and great basketball on the court animate our faculty, staff and students. We love the traditions and being part of a community that takes care of each other. But right now, we are deeply worried about KU.
The university’s chancellor and interim provost have asked the faculty, staff and students to absorb a 6 percent cut in KU’s budget, which equals $20 million per year. The cut is immense, and for that reason, the University Senate has asked the chancellor and provost to reduce the budget cuts to both the academic and service units by half. A $10 million drop in resources will also hurt, but it is much less than the proposed 6 percent cut. These cuts are damaging our institution, and we are asking questions of the chancellor. We would like to know why the faculty, staff and students must shoulder the cuts alone, and why he will not ask the university’s partners to help. We would like the statewide KU community to ask him, too.
The budget cuts are getting closer and they will undermine the core functions of the university. The Board of Regents describes KU as “a major comprehensive research and teaching university that serves as a center for learning, scholarship and creative endeavor.” But the budget cuts weaken that mission. KU cannot thrive academically without returning our focus to the community that we came here to build and that we strive to maintain.
Our students have expressed feeling of being cheated because professors have to do more with less. They ask questions of the chancellor and provost, but get no answers about what is happening to the student experience. The number of staff whose work is central to the academic systems through which students navigate their careers is being reduced. Fewer faculty members mean fewer teachers. Students face bigger classes and reduced course offerings..
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Meanwhile, budget cuts mean a reduction in salary for staff and for the equipment, travel, office supplies and professional development expenses that are central to their work. Some units are faced with eliminating staff positions, including 29 currently-filled positions that are being eliminated across campus.
Staff members went through the holidays wondering about termination notices. For those who will remain, no additional compensation will come amid a greater workload.
KU has attracted faculty from the best institutions across the country precisely because it has invested in its students through teaching, research that creates new knowledge and a community that we help strengthen.
We require strong departments and schools to do so. Yet the chancellor’s current budget plan has motivated long-term faculty to leave KU through the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program. There is no certainty that those positions will be refilled. Remaining faculty will have added responsibilities, yet less time for student engagement, coursework innovation and research development. These changes will affect KU’s standing as one of the nation’s elite research universities, and we fear they may become a permanent part of KU’s operations.
We have taken a stand as the University Senate that faculty, staff and students must not face budget cuts alone that were created by bad administrative decisions. All of KU’s partners, including Kansas Athletics and the KU Endowment Association, should play a part in absorbing the proposed cut. We are all KU, and every member of the community should absorb cuts that so far have been asked only of the faculty, staff and students.
KU can thrive and remain a strong community. We ask that you consider the ways in which the cuts will affect our university and that you express your concerns to the chancellor. We love and respect KU, and we must find other solutions to keep making it so.
Ruben Flores is president of the University Senate at the University of Kansas.