After two months of work, the University of Wyoming Financial Crisis Advisory Committee is making headway in its search for budget reductions at the University of Wyoming, although much work still needs to be completed.
Stephen Bieber, director of the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center and chair of the committee, said the entire 13-member group fully understands the situation UW is in.
“It’s very complex — almost anything we consider is interwoven,” he said. “We’ve got our head around this notion of how to approach the situation.”
The group’s goal is to find $15 million in revenue and cuts for the fiscal year 2018 budget. This would be on top of the about $19 million goal UW President Laurie Nichols is eliminating from the fiscal year 2017 budget, of which she has already identified more than $16 million.
While new revenue streams will likely contribute to the $15 million, a majority will come from budget cuts, Bieber said. The exact figures are yet to be determined.
“It’s a complicated, convoluted kind of situation,” he said. “We have this very short timeline, which has been extended but is still very short, to go from really trying to find out what we’re going up against to finding an actual solution that has to go to the (UW Board of Trustees).”
The committee is currently hearing opinions and gathering more information, said Bob Sprague, associate professor of management and marketing and committee member.
“We’re hearing from different contingencies and active groups,” he said. “We’ll also be hearing from the subcommittee for revenue options.”
Athletics Director Tom Burman is speaking before the committee Tuesday, Bieber said.
“One of the things that always comes up is academics and athletics,” he said. “It’s certainly something that has to be addressed sooner or later. We’re bringing in Tom Burman to make a presentation to us so we can ask questions and get some of these issues out in the open so we can discuss them, hear them, get evaluation of those things from the campus community.
“So, we’re really trying to open up we’re thinking about and getting response from the community,” Bieber continued. “And we’re not shying away from difficult subjects.”
One of the top strategies being considered is cost reduction through attrition, Sprague said. Once a faculty member leaves, the position stays empty. However, there has to be a larger focus on faculty positions, not staff jobs.
“For every faculty member who stays, that could cost four staff positions, and, obviously, we cannot do that, and we’re definitely not going to do this on the backs of staff,” Sprague said. “They’ve already taken major hits. It will have to entail faculty.”
The Financial Crisis Advisory Committee does not plan to enter financial exigency, which would allow for the elimination of tenured positions, although it is still an option, Sprague said.
As of 2015, about 55 percent of full-time instructional faculty are tenured, with another 24 percent on tenure track. Lecturers are the only faculty group on campus who cannot gain tenured status.
One of the items in a list of broad guidelines for developing a reduction plan states, “No unit smaller than 10 employees may be retained without a compelling justification.”
“The notion there is trying to take smaller units in terms of people and consolidate them in some meaningful fashion — it has to be meaningful, you don’t want to put groups together because they’re small,” Bieber said. “But if there’s some collection of them that could make sense, you can reduce the administrative cost.”
Combining units or departments with low faculty numbers and similar areas of study could reduce the number administrators, such as department heads, which could save funding, Bieber explained. Such unit evaluations differ from the ongoing program reviews Academic Affairs has headed.
“The program reviews were designed to try and eliminate some of the smaller and less effective majors,” Bieber said. “But that’s not a unit reduction. That’s like getting rid of this bachelor’s degree in this program, even though the department might stay, we might get rid of a master’s program or a bachelor’s program. The reductions and eliminations that my group is talking about would be reductions to units or eliminations of units where that program information could help, but the program reviews weren’t really designed for whole units. They’re really related but really distinct.”
These are both still budget-reducing options available to the group, Bieber explained.
“There are no guidelines or no disposition from my group that we are actually going to eliminate anything,” he said. “That’s always a possibility. Whenever you have substantial reductions, and we do have substantial reductions, the possibility of units or program elimination is always a real possibility. But there’s nothing we’ve tried to do to set the stage for that to be mandatory or even an expectation.”