Closer to the cut

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols speaks Tuesday during the town hall meeting in the Wyoming Union Ballroom.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

SHANNON BRODERICK

About $13.5 million or $14 million of a targeted $19 million in reductions to the University of Wyoming’s budget has been identified, UW President Laurie Nichols told hundreds of faculty and staff during a town hall meeting Tuesday.

“If I had to call it right now … I think for FY 2017, we are at somewhere in the ballpark of $13.5 (million)-$14 million in reductions to the block grant,” she said. “If we can say we’re at $14 million, and our goal is $19 million, you can see that we still have a gap we need to fill as we move forward.”

So far, holding and eliminating vacant positions has yielded about $5.71 million in savings — more than the original goal of $5.2 million expected by cutting 70 positions.

“We actually, right now, are holding 97 positions vacant from the budget to reach $5.71 million,” she said. “We’re a little bit over the $5.2 (million) goal, but part of the reason we held back more vacant positions is because we haven’t been able to be quite as strong on meeting some of our other targets as we move forward, and we know this is going to be the safety net. If we don’t hit a target in one of the other categories, this is going to have to be the category we go back to to try to realize that savings.”

The retirement and severance incentives available to all university employees, scheduled to end Aug. 5, has already provided significant savings, Nichols said. Currently, $3.64 million in savings is expected for FY 2017, far ahead of the $3 million goal. However, the target for FY 2018 is doubled to $6 million, leaving the retirements and separations off target.

Changes to part-time employee working hours is also yielding monetary savings. Benefits are paid to all employees with more than a 50 percent work load. UW has instead either dropped the work load to below 50 percent or up to full time.

“We’re at at least $1 million, maybe a little bit in excess in $1.1 million,” she said. “Again, this is a moving target, but we’ve saved at least $1 million there and we hope we can get just a little stronger savings.”

Creating a five-course standardized workload of average three-credit classes will also save funding, Nichols said, although it is not quite clear at this time.

“Right now, it is really almost completely unknown,” she said. “It’s not to say we won’t have savings, it’s just that we have not been able to pin down a dollar amount at this point in time. It’s really a moving target. We’re trying to work with the deans to figure out where we are with staffing for fall.”

A final $7 million dictated by the Legislature has already been identified and cleared, Nichols said.

“For the Penny Plan, the $7 million has been realized,” she said.

“That is out of the budget.”

The Financial Crisis Advisory Committee, created after Nichols declared a financial crisis in June, is tasked with building a suggested budget plan for FY 2018.

“Any changes, and they’re still being made, are just trying to get us into this year,” Committee Chairman Steve Bieber said. “Any changes that we recommend won’t be seen until July 1, 2017. Anything we’re doing is still a long time off.

Bieber wanted to emphasize the committee is identifying savings on top of the $19 million being eliminated from FY 2017.

“(FY 2017 eliminations) are a permanent change — I really want to make sure that’s clear,” he said. “That change to the 2017 budget is the beginning place for the 2018 budget. That money is not going to come back. It’s gone. The task before my committee is to find another $15 million in addition to that.”

Current targets show about $9.5 million of the $15 million coming from Academic Affairs, which controls the colleges and departments budget as well as faculty salary. A $1.2 million reduction in the athletics budget is also a target.

“The reductions were all across-the-board for each of the sizes of the budgets, so athletics wasn’t really hit any harder or less than other areas,” he said.

The current targets are subject to change after the final numbers for the 2017 reductions are set, Bieber said.

In addition to eliminations, a subcommittee headed by Rob Godby, professor of economics, is set on identifying new revenue sources. Its first target is program fees.

Compared to 11 other similar institutions, the average program fee structure is 271 percent more than what UW is currently charging students.

“We, for a long time, have benefitted from that state generosity,” Godby said. “But the problem is, we’re in a tough time and we’re going to have to carry a little more of that burden. There’s a little room to do this. We are not going to raise our tuition to the level of these other schools. We are saying there is room to make the changes we need to make to benefit students.”

While more cuts are coming, Bieber said the committee is keeping UW’s core mission at heart.

“This is our institution,” he said.

“For me, what is the greatest harm that could be done to this university is to lose our hearts, to lose that drive, that enthusiasm, that willingness to excel, that pastion for what we do. We, at the University of Wyoming, have an incurable disease, and that is our heart and passion for one another, our community, our students and our state.”

A third-party solution

The idea of third-party services or vendors on campus is another possible cost-saving measure to be looked at in the future. Michael Pishko, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, said it is not uncommon to make use of such services.

“A lot of institutions contract out certain services or functions of a university that aren’t core to the academic mission,” he said. “A university’s core mission is teaching, research and service to the state. It’s not our job to do plumbing. It’s not our job to do landscaping.”

Pishko came to UW from Texas A&M University, where third-party services are regularly used, he said.

“An audit found the university could save $15 million a year by using private contractors for things such as janitorial services, landscaping and lawn service, painting, and basic carpentry, and that’s what they ended up doing.

“It’s not a guaranteed savings,” Pishko continued. “There are pluses and minuses.”

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols said the idea will be analyzed once other, more pressing matters have been attended.

“We haven’t quite gotten to that yet, but we will,” she said. “There’s several areas that I think need to be examined, but there’s a short list in my head we need to get after — we have to get FY 2017 figured out. You just can’t do everything at once. But as we start getting other things done, we’ll start moving forward with these other ideas.”

(13) comments

Pragmatist

The Texas A&M experience Dean Pishko mentions is not a silver bullet. At the direction of their Chancellor, A&M went too far in contracting out services and sacrificed quality in many respects. Food service on the A&M campus is dismal and maintenance on the campus is now lacking. When campus services are provided by large, outside corporations whose goal is profit, you can expect pride in work product and services to suffer. Outsourcing is a good idea but should be done very advisedly and not wholesale...like at A&M. A campus can quickly lose its character and identity...like at A&M.

packerpoke

Good information.

waitasec

I'm glad the university is "saving" money, which seems to be the only goal. As a result of these savings, students are taking the hit. Faculty and staff are leaving, degree programs are being eliminated, classes are being cancelled, and tuition is going up.
But that's OK because the university is saving money.

bobvila

You realize that the university is mandated to do this massive budget trimming by the legislature right?

waitasec

No, they weren't mandated. The state "suddenly" realized there is no money. The university is making blanket cuts just to balance whatever is left of the books. Unfortunately, the long term results will be reduced enrollment as students cannot get the classes they need to graduate in 4-5 years. And that means even greater income reductions, not to mention the poor reputation of the university around the country. How do you market a university with a last place football and poor academic program?

GirlyPoke

They were absolutely mandated. This is not just "Oh no! Monies"

it was the state saying "We cannot support you for the next to years, you need to help support us." And making UW pay this large chunk of money back.

Laramiejim

Get out of High School and enroll to the 13th Grade! U of W

packerpoke

Wow it's getting worse and worse. I did not know about this meeting at all.

Laramiejim

Get rid of Physical Plant Dean Pishko? Let us have a BLUE FLU during Homecoming weekend. That would be one stinky home to come back to.

Hiyanego

"
Creating a five-course standardized workload of average three-credit classes will also save funding, Nichols said, although it is not quite clear at this time.

“Right now, it is really almost completely unknown,” she said. "

Why would Dr. Nichols or anyone else make a change that may or may not save money during a fiscal crisis? What was the point? There are plenty of ways to improve finances at UW. Telling faculty to teach more when they don't know if they'll have the students to teach is not an automatic money saver and may be the biggest joke of the crisis. How about increasing enrollment and looking at demand FIRST?

Snowy Range

The point -- quite obviously -- is to save money by having regular faculty teach courses instead of having to hire temporary teachers.

The reason the savings is not precisely quantifiable right now is because everybody's sorting out the classes and the workloads to see how many fewer temporary teachers need to be hired.

FovedST

So Snowy Range, the departments I know of don't have any temporary instructors. Please do tell us the *point* of the five-course standard again? If regular faculty have to create courses were there were none to meet the new standard and they can't count on enrollment, that sounds like a big money loser. Unless wasting faculty time is the point?


Snowy Range

Well, Foved, I was trying.

UW spends $X million on temporary teachers. So, if professors, by teaching at their full loads, can teach a number of the classes taught by temps, there will be savings.

And, of course, it will vary by department. That's one reason I said, below, "The reason the savings is not precisely quantifiable right now is because everybody's sorting out the classes and the workloads to see how many fewer temporary teachers need to be hired."

I'm not trying to argue that you're wrong about anything, actually. You're right that it takes specific analysis of specific situations.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.