University of Nebraska administrators announced $9.2 million in potential cuts across NU’s four campuses Monday, a forerunner to a major hearing this week before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
The cuts include consolidating or eliminating several undergraduate and graduate programs, shuttering certain research and extension offices, and terminating some student services and athletic teams, according to proposals from the system’s three chancellors released Monday afternoon.
In all, more than 81 positions would be cut across the university system in what NU leaders call “phase one” of a budget reduction plan triggered by Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed state budget.
“This is a difficult day for the University of Nebraska, our 53,000 students and the citizens we serve,” NU President Hank Bounds said in a statement. “The funding reductions recommended by the Governor have forced us to make painful decisions that will upend people’s lives, make it more difficult for us to educate the future workforce, and limit our ability to grow Nebraska’s economy.”
The proposals are a prelude to NU’s date with the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, where regents, administrators, faculty, students and supporters will ask state senators to spare the university from what have been described as “transformational cuts.”
As state tax receipts have trended downward amid a slumping ag economy, Ricketts in January proposed cutting $11.4 million from the university’s state appropriation for the remainder of this fiscal year — which NU said it would likely absorb by dipping into its cash reserve.
The governor’s plan also called for another $23.2 million reduction in state aid next year, which Bounds told the NU Board of Regents on Jan. 25 would mean the elimination of some university programs as well as the faculty and staff who run them.
At that meeting, Bounds said he had met with chancellors, business officers and other campus leaders to lay ground rules for identifying cuts. Those included no across-the-board reductions to salaries, articulating the process to eliminate programs and what the impact might be on students.
No details explaining the process NU followed to make the $9.2 million in programmatic cuts were revealed on Monday, but a list of where the university expects to make cuts includes a breakdown of how the proposals would affect all four campuses within the system.
The flagship campus, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, would trim $3.5 million from its budget by closing the Rural Futures Institute, which connects university students with small communities throughout the state for service projects, and the Haskell Ag Lab in Concord, a 320-acre research farm that has been in operation since 1957 and that serves 28 counties in northeast Nebraska.
UNL would also shutter its undergraduate and graduate degree programs in art history, electronics engineering and geography, and eliminate teacher’s endorsement programs in world languages, business, marketing and information technology, cutting 25 positions total.
Chancellor Ronnie Green said UNL notified affected employees on Monday that their positions could be eliminated after the university worked for the past year to trim fat from its operations.
“They aren’t being eliminated at this point — they are just proposals,” Green said. “But there’s no way to dice it. This is serious business.”
While the Legislature isn’t expected to pass a budget until March, UNL’s Academic Planning Committee would need to review the cuts and hold public hearings before they could be enacted.
Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, UNL Faculty Senate President Sarah Purcell was hopeful the Appropriations Committee will realize the potential impact more budget cuts could have on the university.
She said faculty are also keeping an eye on the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, which will meet again at the end of the month to gauge the state’s tax receipts.
“If the proposed cuts by the governor are eventually approved by the Legislature, UNL programs, majors, faculty and staff will be cut,” Purcell said. “The dollars going to the University of Nebraska are an investment in the future of Nebraska, our workforce and our economy, and should be sustained.”
Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln said he fears more cuts to NU will negatively impact “the next generation of our state leaders.”
Clare also said regents are questioning the logic behind Ricketts’ proposal. NU receives 13 percent of the state’s general fund, but is being asked to take roughly 34 percent of the total cut being imposed across state government.
“What’s the message there?” Clare said. “We’re willing to accept our fair share of the cuts, but why are we being asked to cut 2.5 times what we receive? That’s what we don’t understand.”
Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska at Kearney announced separate cuts of $2.5 million to its campus operations to close a budget gap created by a loss in state aid, declining enrollment and scheduled salary increases to employees.
Combined with the state-prompted cuts, UNK plans to reduce its operating budget by $3.4 million, or roughly 5 percent, in an “unprecedented” round of reductions, according to Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
To close the gap by July 1, UNK will eliminate 38 positions — some left unfilled for years — while also merging its College of Fine Arts and Humanities and its College of Natural and Social Sciences.
UNK will also eliminate its men’s golf and tennis squads, as well as its baseball team to save money, Kristensen said. A total of 56 current student-athletes and 10 incoming freshmen will be affected.
Those programs were chosen to comply with federal Title IX guidelines as well as Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association membership rules. UNK identified those programs based on facility and travel costs, as well as “climate-related challenges to scheduling home competitions.”
Lopers currently competing in those programs will have their scholarships honored for their remaining eligibility, UNK Athletic Director Paul Plinske said, and the university will aid those individuals in finding new teams.
As NU readies to go before the Appropriations Committee later this week, Bounds said university leaders will ask senators “to make a clear choice about their priorities and what kind of future they want for our children and grandchildren.”
“My view is that the University of Nebraska, one of our state’s most powerful economic drivers of individual opportunity and economic growth, has to be part of the conversation,” he said. “There’s never been a more important time to work together to build that future.”
But Green struck a more solemn note when trying to put the current round of cuts in context.
“This is the third cut to the University budget in less than a year,” he said. “And, as sad as it is to say, unless something changes dramatically, it is not going to be the last cut either.”