University of Nebraska administrators announced $9.2 million in cuts across NU’s four campuses Monday, setting up a major hearing this week before the Legislature's Appropriations Committee.
Undergraduate and graduate programs will be consolidated or eliminated, research and extension offices will be shuttered, and some student services and athletic teams will be terminated, according to proposals from three separate chancellors announced Monday afternoon.
In all, more than 81 positions will be eliminated across the university system, in what NU leaders call “phase one” of a budget reduction plan.
Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska at Kearney announced an additional $2.5 million in cuts to its campus operations to close a budget gap created by a loss in state aid, declining enrollment and scheduled salary increases to employees.
The proposals preclude 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 has been described as “transformational cuts.”
As state tax receipts have trended downward amid a slumping ag economy, Gov. Pete 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 how NU will make its $9.2 million in programmatic cuts were revealed on Monday, but a list of where the university expects to make cuts included a breakdown of how the proposals would affect all four campuses within the system.
The flagship campus, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will be asked to 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 will also shutter its undergraduate and graduate degree programs in art history, electronics engineering and geography, while also eliminating teacher’s endorsement programs in world languages, business, marketing and information technology, eliminating 25 positions total.
Chancellor Ronnie Green said UNL notified affected employees on Monday they could be among those cut after the university worked for the last year to trim fat from its operations through budget efficiencies.
“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 may not 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 that 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. “Students’ lives will be affected. 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.”
Also on Monday, UNK said it plans to cut $3.4 million from its budget, representing approximately 5 percent of its operating budget in an "unprecedented" round of budget cuts, according to Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
He said UNK's budget gap was the result of the loss in state aid, dwindling credit hour production through declining enrollment, and an increase to salaries and benefits for employees.
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, Green struck a 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.”