Western Kentucky University revealed its recommended plan today on how it might confront a $15 million budget shortfall, plus increased pension contributions and reduced state funding.
WKU President Timothy Caboni told the Board of Regents that the necessary financial cuts require the most painful decision a university leader must make – cutting five percent of the faculty and staff of about 2,000 employees.
“We’ll significantly reduce the size of our workforce at WKU," said Caboni. "We’ve captured approximately 40 vacant positions through our hiring slowdown we implemented last fall. An additional 90-to-100 positions will be eliminated this spring.”
Caboni says the decisions on which positions are eliminated will be made by mid-March by department leaders across the university. He says employees whose positions are cut can stay in their jobs until the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and will be given assistance in finding other employment.
Another action to close the budget gap includes centralizing management of the regional campuses in Owensboro, Glasgow and Elizabethtown/Fort Knox. Those campuses will be administered by the WKU Division of Extended Learning and Outreach, or DELO.
Caboni said it's possible each regional campus will focus on a handful of programs directly related to local workforce needs.
“As much as I think it’s interesting to offer a history degree on our Glasgow campus, I’m not sure that best meets the needs of the local economy,” said Caboni. Liberal arts courses may be offered at a central location.
WKU Provost David Lee said even in these difficult budget times, it’s important to maintain this essential part of a university education.
“I think the liberal arts are at the core of what it means to be an educated citizen," said Lee. "And for the future that this commonwealth wants to build for itself, it’s crucial that we have a rising generation of folks who understand values of the liberal arts, the kinds of questions that the liberal arts ask.”
Caboni said he’s committed to the overall mission of a four-year university to provide the “complete college experience” that will attract students and boost enrollment. He says programs like music, forensics, theater and athletics are important to a complete college experience that will keep WKU competitive with other universities.
President Caboni said the steps announced today are the first part of a difficult process.
“The next phase of reductions will come in April once the General Assembly has finalized the state budget. Currently that budget includes a nearly $5 million reduction in our state appropriation, as well as significant increases in our pension obligation.”
WKU expects to have an additional $9 million pension obligation, based on current recommendations by Gov. Matt Bevin.