Faculty, staff fear budget cuts will stall progress

Trustees: Salary freeze, tuition hike could hurt quality of education

By Juliann Vachon

Stephanie NeCamp, a mechanical engineering junior, said she is stuck.

The Ohio native is too far along in her major to leave UK without falling behind, so she must endure the out-of-state tuition increase for another year, she said.

“I help pay part of my tuition, and I was scrounging for funds this year,” NeCamp said. “But this late in the game, I just can’t afford to transfer.”

NeCamp and other returning students will see another jump in tuition next year. President Lee Todd announced Tuesday that tuition will increase 9 percent for in-state students and 6.6 percent for out-of-state students.

In-state tuition at UK has increased 156 percent in the last 10 years. Raising tuition 9 percent — the maximum rate allowed by the state Council on Postsecondary Education — will bring in-state tuition for lower-division students to $7,735 per year, while out-of-state tuition will increase to $15,880.

To keep that increase a single digit, the university is cutting costs and expenses, including eliminating faculty and staff salary increases for non-hospital employees in 2008-09.

“Our first responsibility is to keep costs for our students as low as possible, while maintaining the quality of their educational experience,” Todd said in a campuswide e-mail Tuesday.

But many employees are concerned that going a year without salary raises will have a detrimental effect that not only hurts them but the quality of education at UK.

Ernie Yanarella, a faculty representative on UK’s Board of Trustees and a political science professor, said a year with no raises will create many problems: Programs that meet undergraduate needs will suffer, recruiting top candidates for jobs will become harder, top employees may leave for higher paying jobs, and faculty and staff salaries will fall even further behind other universities. As of 2006, UK’s average salary was 10.8 percent behind its benchmarks.

Faculty and staff pay raises, as well as tuition increases, still have to be approved by the Board of Trustees at its April 22 meeting.

If approved, the budget will be the first since 2002-03 that does not include raises for faculty and staff, and the first since 1992-93 that does not include increases or pay bonuses.

Since 2000, the faculty salary pool has increased an average of 3.1 percent each year, while the staff salary pool has averaged a 2.9 percent increase.

Faculty members need resources if they’re going to work with new, innovative curriculum and maintain a high morale, said Jeff Dembo, a faculty representative on the Board of Trustees who works in the College of Dentistry.

“Psychologically, it becomes more difficult to plow forward and blaze new trails when the state isn’t behind us,” he said.

Gov. Steve Beshear ordered an immediate 3 percent state budget cut earlier this year, and that combined with an additional 3 percent cut in state support for 2008-09 means the university will have $20 million less in state funding next year.

UK is also expecting to pay more for utilities and other operating cost with each year.

Even after raising tuition and eliminating salary increases, the university must still cut $14 million in costs, Todd wrote in his e-mail, and the deans of UK’s 16 colleges have been asked to start looking for spending reductions.

Scott Smith, dean of the College of Agriculture, said the budget situation is a challenge that will delay many of the goals and ambitions within different departments.

The college had opportunities to bring in new faculty to fill key positions, but those plans are now on hold, he said. The college will also look at how county extension offices throughout the state are funded.

“We’re going to have to make significant adjustments, but we can continue to do a good job,” Smith said. “I’m happy with the way UK and the legislature have handled it.”

Jay Perman, dean of the College of Medicine, said the college would look for ways to keep the momentum moving forward in research, teaching and clinical care.

But the college will have to look for things it can do more efficiently, Perman said, which, like in the College of Agriculture, could include leaving unfilled positions vacant.

“We all have to stick it out and make the best decision we can make,” Perman said.

Yanarella said any finger-pointing for the financially challenging year ahead should be directed at the state government in Frankfort.

“They have failed our citizens and future generations by not biting the bullet and looking at tax increases that could have been enacted to either ease the budget situation or solve it,” Yanarella said.

“The sad and difficult thing about the present circumstances is that they’re likely to get worse,” he said.

Yanarella said the state’s dependence on saving money through the retirement of 3,400 employees in the next year is dangerous.

He described the state’s budget as being “stuck together with chewing gum;” a situation that could quickly fall apart if those employees do not retire and the state faces even more financial hardship in the middle of the budget cycle.

“The Todd administration is being cautious and conservative in dealing with this budget, and that is to their credit because the university could face another mid-semester belt-tightening,” Yanarella said.

Ultimately that belt-tightening will create more work for everyone at the university, said Donald Mason, an administrative assistant in the College of Communications.

Every time the college eliminates a staff or faculty position, employees become even more overworked, students find it harder to get quality support and UK takes one step back from becoming a top-20 research institution, Mason said.

“It’s very ironic that we’re still under that top-20 mandate from the state while they’re cutting our funding,” Mason said.