Unfilled faculty and staff positions and the quality of the University of Kansas' education were the main focal points of the fourth budget conversation hosted by Interim Provost Carl Lejuez on Wednesday.
Lejuez hosted the conversation in part to discuss the new budget model the University is rolling out, but, at the beginning of the meeting, he started providing data on how many faculty and staff had to be removed as part of this budget cut.
Nearly 56 positions which were already vacant in between July 7 of this year and Jan. 1, 2019, but another eight positions — which were filled — were eliminated. Lejuez said in part, he wants to be clear: those last eight positions belonged to people who lost their jobs.
Those eliminations were to partially help levy the $20 million budget cut overall. Near the beginning of the meeting, Lejuez said many of these eliminations and initiatives to help keep the University financially stable were not directly impacting students.
But many students went up to ask Lejuez during the meeting — how is the reduction of faculty and staff not hurting students directly?
“Everything that happens at the University impacts students,” Lejuez said. “Having fewer staff is particularly hard for students. We have limited the impact, but are students impacted? Absolutely.”
Administration consolidating their part of the $20 million cut was also part of the conversation. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences had to pay about $6.3 million of the cut, and Lejuez said many people asked why administration wasn’t cutting more to help balance the cost.
As is, 62 positions specifically from administration service and campus operations were cut or about to be cut — that encompasses people in finance and Information Technology.
“There really isn't a lot of administration to cut right now," Lejuez said. "That's why I wasn't able to protect the schools and the college.”
Graduate student Hannah Allison told Lejuez that many graduate students only make about $16,000 per year, and Lejuez racks up a six-figure salary — specifically, around $410,000 per year.
“It feels like a lot of us are having to make less more,” Allison said.
She proceeded to ask why salary cuts within administration weren’t part of the conversation.
The University of Kansas accumulated thousands of dollars in student support services when they switched from Coca-Cola to Pepsi products for purchase in July 2017, a Kansan overview of records shows.
"It will stop really good people from wanting to come here," Lejuez said in part.
Lejuez added that his salary is less than those of previous provosts.
While it’s not clear if Lejuez was referring to University provosts or provosts around the state, it should be noted that state payroll records show in 2015, then-Provost Sara Rosen made an annual salary of $266,158. Rosen stepped in after Provost Jeffrey Vitter announced his resignation to take a job as the president at the University of Mississippi. At the time he left, records show Vitter’s salary was at $397,481. In 2017, then-Provost Neeli Bendapudi, who is now the president of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, made an annual salary of about $472,000
At today’s meeting, though some students were in attendance, the crowd was largely composed of faculty and staff. Another graduate student, José Héctor-Cadena, asked how students could be better engaged in discussing these cuts.
Lejuez said in part that he’s grappled with trying to better engage students. He has met with student senators to try and incorporate the student voice more into the issue, he said.
"I've met with individual groups of students,” Lejuez said. “I don't really know the answer to that.”
Lejuez summed up the meeting by discussing how this budget cut is the only option the University has left.
"If I knew any way to not cut the budget, I wouldn't. I'm cutting it because I don't know what else to do," Lejuez said. "The reason I'm doing this today is because I have responsibility for this — this is the budget cut I called."