VIDEO COVERAGE: Farley details budget cuts

ReAnne Utemark

Under the current economic crunch, the Washburn University belt is going to get a little tighter. However, Washburn University President Jerry Farley maintained that it would not be uncomfortably stretched.

The budget is suffering from two losses of income, both a state mandated budget reduction and a reduction in credit hours. Farley explained the state indicated that the University should plan for a two percent reduction in funding for the current year and an additional five percent reduction for the fiscal year 2010. This cut is only for the state funding, which is only a part of the revenue for Washburn but the state of Kansas provides $12.6 million, which is the number from which the cumulative seven percent will be reduced

“Last year, we had our first real annual reduction in credit hours that we have had in seven or eight years,” said Farley. “Last year, it was about a 4,000 total credit hour reduction. This year, fall term, it appears, although we are still early in the process, it will be something over 4,000 credit hours this fall.”

Farley continued to say the projection for the Spring 2009 semester was a similar forecast, putting the total reduction in credit hours to somewhere around 8,000.

“We annualized and absorbed last year’s 4,000 credit hour decline in the current year budget,” said Farley. “This year, we need to take care of the potential 8,000 credit hour [reduction] during the year. We can’t simply wait to have it flow through to next year. We need to make the adjustment during the year because it is such a significant number.”

Farley calculated the reduction in credit hours was going to be about a $1.6 million cut from the budget. Combined with the state reductions, the total loss to Washburn University is going to be about $2.5 million.

“We need to approach this as an issue which is systemic and ongoing as opposed to this is one time, and we just make one-time adjustments and then things will return to normal in a future period. That’s not what we’re looking at,” said Farley.

Farley said one-time and continuing reductions would help balance out the budget. He listed basic efficiency methods that would help the budget, including turning the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter to save on utilities, as well as making sure lights are turned off in classrooms and in offices that do not have automatic sensors. One of the short-term fixes he listed included reducing equipment purchases out of the University general fund sources.

Farley said the vice presidents would be working with deans and department heads who would invite anyone to participate in ideas for budget reduction and to be creative in the process.

“It’s not just reducing expenditures, also other revenue opportunities,” said Farley. “The first one that comes to mind is, is there a way that we can increase retention?”

Farley said the direct-from-high school freshmen enrollment was up by about five percent.

“The basic underlying tenant is that it shouldn’t adversely effect students,” said Farley. “I am sure that will be ideas that will effect students, but it shouldn’t adversely affect students. The student at Washburn University this year should expect to have the same quality and the same experience in their educational process as the person that came last year or a person that will come two years from now.”

Farley said things will be done differently, including the smaller number of class sections for students to choose because there are not as many students. Farley also emphasized that students should still have the opportunity to complete their undergraduate education in four years and the Washburn Transformational Experience.

“We want to continue that [WTE],” said Farley. “We don’t want to reduce the opportunity for future students, we are just at the beginning of that program and we think it is a great program.”

Farley emphasized the seriousness of the budget reductions, but that it was not a “life and death crisis” for Washburn.

“We will do fine,” said Farley. “I want people to understand the seriousness of the matter but without a fear of what will occur and how this might jeopardize the University or the student’s education.”

Gordon McQuere, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, echoed the idea that these budget cuts are not going to break the university.

“It is always more fun to have a growth environment,” said McQuere. “But this is manageable.” McQuere said that he did not have specific instructions yet, but said the picture gets clearer as the semester unfolds. He also said there was no reason for students to get anxious.

“We will do our very best to protect students’ opportunity to learn as the highest priority,” said McQuere. “But there is always something that can be done more efficiently or better.”

He said that everyone should be aware that the budget needed some changes and that a lot of factors would go into the final changes to be made, including final enrollment numbers, how much sales tax Washburn receives from the city of Topeka and even more broad factors like energy costs.

Faculty Senate President Tom Prasch agreed in that it was too early to tell how the budget cuts would actually affect faculty.

“I think our biggest concern is that we look for places to cut the budget elsewhere before class sizes,” said Prasch. “As much as possible we need to work toward preserving the academic integrity of the university before we look to cutting things like class size or decreasing class offerings.”

Prasch said the specific cuts had not been proposed, but he wanted the cuts to be handled equitably and the cuts preserve academics. One aspect that Prasch also mentioned was retention and how it factored into the budget cut discussion.

“If we do well at attracting students and keeping them, we would go a long way toward solving the problem,” said Prasch.