Thursday, May 26, 2016

EKU Board of Regents focused on how to move forward

Turner: Some EKU jobs will be cut 

This from the Richmond Register:
Because Eastern Kentucky University reallocated budget resources including staff reductions three years ago, its was able to absorb a 2-percent state funding cut for the current fiscal year that was imposed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

And because of EKU’s action in 2013, the university also will be better prepared to face 4.5-percent state funding cuts the state legislature in April enacted for each of the coming two years.

EKU Regents Chair Craig Turner offered those assessments Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of a special called regents meeting. Nearly four hours of the meeting took place behind closed doors. It began at 9 a.m. and concluded shortly before 3 p.m.

Current conversations “are bad enough,” Turner said, but they would be “more dramatic” without the changes EKU made in 2013.

Since then, EKU has made much progress that can be attributed to those changes, Turner said. This past year, the university enjoyed its largest-ever enrollment, along with the most academically qualified students ever admitted. And in the past three years, retention and graduation rates have both improved.

The challenge for the administration and regents, Turner said, is to prevent decreased state funding from blunting that momentum.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion, a lot of thoughts about what the right decisions are for Eastern,” Turner said, as he addressed the board along with the administrators, faculty and staff who attended the meeting’s open session.

“The right decision for Eastern is not to look at a budget cut and say everybody gets cut exactly the same,” he continued. “We have to look at budget cuts” based on “how we’re going to be funded in the future.”

Kentucky’s universities will be forced to compete for funding based on enrollment, retention and graduation rates, Turner said. And EKU will have to make sure “that we excel at those three things better than anybody else.”

He complimented President Michael Benson, the faculty and staff on a good year in 2015-16. “Now somebody has thrown us a curve ball,” Turner said. But now the university will have to “play by new rules” and make “some tough decisions,” he added.

The administration has a good plan for 2016-17 that the board is “very comfortable with,” the chair said. And while some cuts will have to be made for the coming year, none would be “overly deep in essence.”

“What the board is really focusing on is how we move forward to 2017-18,” when another 4.5-percent state funding cut will take effect, Turner said. And that was “the basis of today’s meeting, for the most part. We obviously reviewed things that are going to take place in 2016-17,” he said, “and some jobs will be in jeopardy this fiscal year.”

Noting the job cuts by other institutions and that personnel is perhaps EKU’s greatest expense, Turner said, “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that you can’t have the types of cuts we’ve had” without people being affected.

All areas of the university are being reviewed, “from athletics to academics to staff, etc.,” the chair said. No area, including health care, “will be exempt for our evaluation,” he added.

“We’ve asked the President’s Council today — we had a number of questions,” Turner said. “I think we asked for an awful lot of data. And a lot of that be returned to us for our June meeting.”

The regents then will begin making “the kind of decisions that will affect the 2017-18 year, primarily,” he said.

Another regents meeting in July is likely, Turner said.

Eastern is among the few state institutions that haven’t announced how they will proceed in wake of the new funding climate, Turner acknowledged. However, “We want to make the right decisions with everybody’s input,” he said.

The administration has formed two panels, academic and student/staff budget review committees, Turner noted.

But with much of the faculty unavailable during the summer, some discussions and decisions will have to wait until the fall, Turner said.

The board will want to have specific program reviews accomplished and reports delivered by Nov. 12, along with the results of a study on the reduction of reassigned faculty, Turner said, so the board can begin making decisions at its December meeting.

“We really have nothing to report to you today that basically says, ‛Here’s what’s going to happen,’” Turner said. “But we can tell you that there is a whole lot of information that is being requested.”
He pledged that: “Students will remain our priority and the quality of education will not be compromised” as efficiencies are made.

The board did take a few actions Wednesday. It reduced the number of meal service plans from eight to 13 and raised the price of the block membership seven-day meal plan by 8 percent and the block VIP plan by 15 percent.

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