The University of Wyoming is in a financial crisis, and UW President Laurie Nichols explained exactly what such a declaration means and its effects to hundreds of faculty and staff members during a presentation Wednesday afternoon.
She started by reiterating how the funding cuts were made and how eliminating 70 vacant positions, standardizing faculty workloads and offering retirement incentives can make up a $16.2 million recurring funding reduction for the 2017 fiscal year. One-time cash reserves numbering $4.5 million were also identified, including the full $500,000 pool from the president’s office.
While no more cuts are expected this year, more reductions could happen in coming years, Nichols said.
“Right now, (the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group) is predicting the state is somewhere between $240-$500 million below revenue,” she said. “That means, (the state is) at the very low end on that. The governor said he will not give another budget cut right now.”
Mead recently released his statewide plan to eliminate $248 million from the 2017-2018 biennium budget.
“We don’t have another budget cut given to us at this time,” Nichols said. “I will share with you immediately if indicators show another one is coming, but right now, there is a lot of concern that we may not be able to end this next year the way they had hoped with the revenue situation.”
Even without additional cuts, Nichols explained declaring a financial crisis is an important step for UW’s planning for coming years.
“A financial crisis says, first of all, the university feels the budget reduction to the university is significant enough that we really need to declare this and move into a different way of handling the budget reductions that are yet to come,” she said. “Using this university regulation really opens up the door and provides flexibility that we really need right now, and it provides us an expedited timeline,” Nichols said.
The Financial Crisis Advisory Committee, comprised of 13 administrators, deans, faculty, staff and students, will assist Nichols in creating and amending a budgetary plan for the coming fiscal years. An original draft of the plan should be provided to the public in early September.
While the final step of declaring a financial crisis, following regulation 6-21, is financial exigency, creating and approving a plan is first required. Regardless, Nichols said UW is doing everything to avoid declaring an exigency, which would allow elimination of tenured positions.
“It’s really important to say that we have not, as a university, declared a financial exigency,” she said. “We are not at that point yet. I hope, I hope, we do not have to go there. I’m doing everything to not go there.”
Creating a standardized faculty teaching load in order to reduce the number of part-time faculty is a key part of Nichols’ budget reduction plan. She expects the $3 million spent on the part-time teachers to drop to $500,000.
The current load growth is expected at five courses for faculty and seven for lecturers, based on a three-credit course. However, there is room for flexibility, Nichols said.
Rachel Watson, lecturer in the department of molecular biology, said it is nearly impossible for her to increase her course load.
“I teach general microbiology, biochemistry and the capstone microbiology course,” she said. “I’ll teach, in total, about four classes a year. But, both classes are very, very large, and several of them have labs associated with them.”
Watson directs many of the labs herself, forgoing the use of student teaching assistants that many other labs utilize.
“One of the reasons I decided to take the position at microbiology was that I was allowed to work with the students in the lab as well,” she said. “For many science faculty, there’s a very large workload associated with teaching four classes a year. There literally isn’t any more I can take on. If I were to take on a course load of (four courses one semester, three the second semester), it would be literally 100 hours of student contact time — not just work — a week.”
In addition, she is co-coach of the cross-country ski team, a co-director of a freshman interest group and advises 45 students.
While the standardized load is going to be instated, it is by no means locked in place, Nichols said.
“It’s in the university regulations, and it says lecturers should teach 21 credits,” she said. “I’m not saying anything that’s now out there, just enacting it. But labs aren’t treated exactly the same.”
Professors with labs could have the course load dropped to five, Nichols explained, although research and other university activities could also affect teaching loads.
“It is my idea that professorial faculty will be research active,” she said. “I do envision that, as we move forward, we will continue to have faculty that are more highly research-intensive, and thus their workload is going to reflect that, and we have faculty that have a scholarship program, but they are probably doing quite a bit more teaching.”
Jeff Means, associate professor in the department of history, asked if faculty without large outside grant funding will be allotted extra time for specific research projects.
“These kinds of criteria are targeted at the sciences,” he said. “Is (Associated Vice President for Academic Affairs David Jones) consciously directed to find ways for historians, social scientists, etc., to find course releases for doing excellent research? Because we’re not bringing in multi-million dollar grants.”
Nichols answered that, while no set program or directive is in place, there are options being investigated, including the creation of a new UW Foundation fund specifically for faculty research.
“It would not necessarily put any money in your pocket, but allow us to bring money over and basically buy you out of a course so we could replace you so that you can do more of that research,” Nichols said. “That is something that needs to be explored. I understand that not everyone has the ability to bring in National Science Foundation dollars or Department of Energy money.”