The Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents approved President Geoff Mearns' plan to cut more than 100 faculty and staff positions to combat a $8 million budget gap at a special meeting Wednesday.
"This is a stark and difficult reality," Mearns said.
The $8 million budget reduction came as a result of the $2.2 million decrease in state funding, increases in fixed costs including retirement contributions and other fixed costs and declining enrollment."We are, as a result of this gap, compelled to make some reductions in faculty and staff and that is because our budget is very dependent on personnel costs," Mearns said.Mearns said since 2008, NKU has looked to extract efficiencies in terms of operating costs, but the univerisity has "already captured the low-hanging fruit" and had to resort to personnel cuts.The board approved the plan to eliminate 37 faculty positions, which will have a $3.5 million impact.
The majority of those positions are "confirmed and anticipated" vacancies. That includes "pre-existing vacancies," faculty retiring June 30 and faculty who volunteered to take advantage of the phased retirement program that will take place over the next year or two.
Six of those faculty positions are currently filled, but are on the non-tenure/tenure track and will be cut next year. Those employees will still be teaching this academic year, but their contracts will not be renewed.The cuts will bring the total number of faculty down 6 percent to 550 positions. The positions were drawn from all six colleges and the currently filled positions were selected by chairs, deans and the provost because they can be replaced with "capable and qualified" adjuncts.The board also approved the president's plan to eliminate 68 staff and management positions.
More than half of those positions are currently filled and the cuts affect virtually every division on campus, from athletics to administration and finance.It will take $4.5 million out of the budget.Mearns outlined the process when the university is faced with a reduction in force:
- Provide for an equitable transition in staffing.
- Balance the financial needs of the university and minimizes any disruption of services while respecting the dignity of the employees affected.
- HR/legal services will conduct a review of every position reduction.
- Consider vacant positions and attrition."We recognize that these decisions have a real impact on people, particularly those present employees whose positions will be eliminated," Mearns said."The decisions for budget reductions followed certain principles, including NKU's strategic priorities as a guide," he added.In addition to personnel reductions, graduate and professional student financial aid will drop $209,000. The operating funds will also be slashed $1.1 million.The action came on the same day that a judge in Frankfort ruled Gov. Matt Bevin can cut the budgets of public colleges and universities without the approval of the state legislature.Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate says two state laws allow Bevin to reduce allotments for public colleges and universities. Wingate said Bevin was not adjusting the colleges’ appropriation, which is something only the state legislature can do. He was just ordering them not to spend all of it.Making the cuts was "difficult. There's no way around it," regents chairman Nathan Smith said. "These are challenging times for higher education around the country, especially here in Kentucky."
The state continues to cut higher education funding and he said there is no reason to believe Bevin and the General Assembly will reverse the trend anytime soon.Despite the circumstances, Smith is optimistic about the future of the university.He said Mearns and his administration haven't avoided making the necessary difficult choices and are taking a strategic, long-term approach to this university's fiscal health."Our overall financial position is strong because we have managed our resources prudently and haven't had to borrow against our future," Smith said. "In fact, we continue to invest in our future. The quality of our academic programs has never been stronger. We will continue to innovate and thrive."