Budget axe falls on academics, jobs, athletics and other university areas

By Collin Overton

Nursing students stand together as the Board of Regents decide on the future of their associate nursing program. The board voted nine to one in favor of suspending the progam. (Photo: Collin Overton/Progress)

At the expense of multiple academic programs, 153 jobs, two sports teams and the Danville regional campus, EKU’s process to meet a $25 million budget shortfall came to a conclusion April 6 at the quarterly Board of Regents meeting at EKU Center for the Arts.

“These choices are not easy, and they are not always popular, but they will ultimately strengthen our university as a whole,” Board of Regents chair Craig Turner said during the meeting.

Despite recommendations from Faculty Senate and Council on Academic Affairs to preserve or rearrange certain programs, only the master’s program in school psychology was spared out of a laundry list of programs that included theatre, economics, deaf studies and associates in nursing. The school psychology master’s, one of three programs in the state, will be considered at the Board’s June meeting with emphasis towards becoming an online program.

President Michael Benson expressed a desire to preserve the theatre and economics programs before the Board members made its votes.

“Any university, public or private, large or small, is truly not a university without economics or theatre,” Benson said.

Carson Stanifer, 18, a freshman majoring in economics and political science from Richmond, stood with other theatre students and members of the Alpha Psi Omega theatre honor society while the Board voted on theatre’s suspension. When the vote was made, Stanifer and the rest of the students filed out of the auditorium.

“We instantly all got up to go out because I don’t think we could stand to be there anymore,” Stanifer said. “It’s so emotional because with theatre you create such a family, and I don’t think the regents understood.”

Four other degrees — including B.S. in risk management, B.A. in chemistry, B.S. in mathematics teaching and M.S. in mathematical sciences — were transitioned to other departments or became concentrations within certain majors, as recommended by the budget advisory committee.

SGA President and student regent Laura Jackson voted against the cuts to theatre, nursing, family consumer sciences and economics. Though program suspensions are devastating, she said, EKU knew it was taking a gamble when it decided to freeze tuition increases last semester.

“That affects all students; decreases, freezes, increases — they will affect every student at EKU, whether it’s an online student, commuter — whoever it is,” Jackson said.

In an email sent after the meeting, Benson clarified that students in affected programs wouldn’t necessarily have to find new majors.

“It is important to note that programs approved for suspension have a transition plan with teach-out options for any currently enrolled students,” the email. “Some majors/minors will transition to similar degree programs with a different department structure.”

Benson also wrote that many suspended programs will continue to be taught as subjects if no longer offered as majors or minors or incorporated into other programs.

The men’s and women’s tennis teams were also suspended. The teams were notified April 5, Benson said. This will not affect the student-athletes’ existing scholarships.

In addition to losing two teams, athletics will now return to 2014 funding levels, taking a $2 million reduction and loss of personnel.

To make up for losses in athletics, the Board voted in favor of a motion to start a beach volleyball team that would consist of current indoor volleyball players and coaching staff. All board members voted in favor except Bryan Makinen, executive director of public safety & risk management.

“Simply because of my desire to have the same level of dialogue and scrutiny with the staff implications as we did with the academic implications, I’m going to vote no,” Makinen said.

Of the 153 university jobs lost through recommendations, 72 were faculty positions, 36 of them filled. Nine of those were tenured faculty, and 10 were on tenure-track. The overall cuts to Academic Affairs made up $13.2 million of the proposed $25 million.

Cuts to academic areas made up most of the $25.14 million budget reduction that the Board of Regents voted on April 6. Cuts at the university level included the loss of 26 administrative positions, including six directors and two department chairs. (Graphic: Collin Overton/Progress)

Makinen said staff had offered “selfless” solutions, such as shorter work weeks and reducing paid hours to allow other staff members to keep their jobs. Twenty-five filled staff positions were eliminated in academic support areas alone. Student Success lost 23 positions, resulting in an overall reduction of $2 million.

The closure of the regional Danville campus and reducing financial support for the WEKU radio station will save roughly $1.6 million.

“I’ve been a regent for 11 and a half years — almost 12 years — and I don’t know of a tougher time since I’ve been on Board,” Turner said.

For a full list of the Budget Advisory Committee’s recommendations, click here.