Removing open positions, standardizing teaching loads and restructuring faculty with partial work loads: Those are the options under consideration to reduce the University of Wyoming’s budget by $19 million in the 2017 fiscal year, President Laurie Nichols explained.
Nichols outlined a plan she’ll present to the UW Board of Trustees to meet funding cuts during a town hall meeting attended by scores of faculty, staff and students Thursday.
“If we could do more of the budget cut in the first year than the second, it would really help,” she said. “In other words, don’t kick the can down the road too much — try to deal with it to the extent we could, of course we certainly need to do this over two years.”
Gov. Matt Mead directed UW to cut $35 million from its FY 2017-2018 biennium budget on top of the Legislature’s cut of 1.5 percent to every state agency, or $7 million from UW. Other internal costs, including utilities and one-time costs for the fiscal system also require funding.
Nichols listed several options for reaching the $19 million reduction in the FY 2017 budget.
“We really wanted to drive efficiencies,” she said. “If you can capture savings by driving efficiencies, you don’t have to cut a lot of things. You just became more efficient and maybe a little leaner.
“We also wanted very much to try to preserve people in the first year,” Nichols continued. “It seemed to me — to come in and start immediately cutting positions when I haven’t even had enough time to even get to know the university was not a good proposal.”
One of the largest money-saving efforts come in the form of freezing open job positions. As of May 20, 75 positions were open. Five were deemed critically important for the university’s functions and were approved to begin searches, while the other 70 are set for elimination.
“I know this is not optimal, and I know you do not want to eliminate every one of these 70 positions, but this is sort of a stopgap measure and a way to gather up some of the funding we need to make this budget cut,” Nichols said. “As we move forward, we will come back and look at this inventory of 70 vacancies, and we’ll try to put some of these back based on strategic priorities.”
In the future, any position left open through faculty retires or departures can still be used and are not part of the freeze, Nichols explained.
“Anything now moving forward in vacancies — we’ll keep those in play and we’ll try to strategically place them where we need them most.” She said. “Those 70 we froze — we’ve identified them, they’re done. Now we’ll have some ability to get things open again.”
Implementing a standard teaching load of five courses per faculty member per academic year is also suggested in the plan.
“I think a very important part of this will be to standardize our teaching load — get our faculty back in the classroom and working with our students,” she said. “I am proposing a standardized teaching load for professorial faculty of teaching five courses per year … I’m suggesting, for our academic professionals who teach, that we do a four-four teaching load or eight courses over the academic year, because that is their role — we pay them to teach.”
The standardization is meant to be flexible based on faculty research loads.
“When we talk about a five-course teaching load, this is for a 100-percent instructional person,” she said. “People that are in research-funded projects, they will need some buy-out from this. There is a lot of finesse that needs to go into this. Having said that, the teaching load (at UW) is really, really low, and I can say that coming from other institutions.”
The increased teaching load would mean UW wouldn’t need to hire as many part-time instructors, which cost about $3 million, Nichols said.
“We’re trying to drive out those part-time hires and get our faculty back in the classroom,” she said. “That’s a major shift, but it’s really helping us get to this budget cut. I think it’s a really good move for our students, because our faculty are excellent.”
This idea can also stop the elimination of more faculty positions, Nichols added.
“If we don’t (implement a standard teaching load), we’ll be looking at eliminating about 50 faculty (full-time equivalent positions),” she said. “That’s the alternative, and I didn’t want to do that. This is hard choice time.”
Another money-saving strategy includes adjusting positions where employees’ workloads fall between 50-99 percent.
“When you’re more than half time, we’re paying full benefits for you, including health care,” Nichols said. “I think a good strategy would be those that are closer to 100 percent — let’s get them to that 100 percent, if we have the workload. They’re already benefits-eligible. It’s just a matter of giving them a full-time job. But people who are close to 50 percent, we need to get them below that.”
However, Nichols emphasized the position will not go away.
“It’s not eliminating the position — it’s adjusting the percentage of time of the position,” she said.
Other ideas include eliminating overtime and offering a retirement incentive package that is still in the works. Reduction in cash reserves and voluntary summer work reductions from 40 hours a week to 32 are also possible options.
Implementing minimum course enrollment thresholds, which are 10 students for undergraduate courses and 5 for graduate courses, limiting faculty travel and capping student labor costs are also money-saving ideas.
A plan was already in place to account for the $7 million penny plan cut approved by the Legislature in March, and that will also be implemented into the coming $19 million reduction.
Nichols also outlined possible ideas for the FY 2018 budget, although nothing was concrete.
“To be honest, this number is a little bit unknown,” she said. “I put $10 million in just to give us a base, but quiet honestly, we’re not sure. It could be a little more or a little less.”
By FY 2018, Nichols said the program reviews should be completed, of which 40 have been identified for possible elimination because of low enrollment and low productivity.
“It’s not just academic programs,” she said. “We really want to ask student affairs and, really, the whole university that offers programs or services to review what they’re doing as well. We need to be good stewards everywhere across the university, and if there are services or programs offered in non-academic units that are low productivities or having a low impact, we need to be looking at eliminating those as well.”
Plans to restructure units to reduce administrative overhead are also being explored.
While internal reductions are the main way to accomplish the $19 million cut, there are revenue options being investigated, Nichols said. Using UW Foundation funding to the fullest, raising enrollment and increasing tuition are all possible revenue options.
Some higher-cost programs that utilize top-notch equipment and laboratories could be supplemented by targeted student fees, lowering total operating costs.
A strong strategic plan outlining the future of the university is a long-term goal for beyond the biennium budget cuts.
“As we think about the next five years and where we would really like to see this university go and what we want this place to look like five years from now and put in place goals and metrics and resource that so we can move forward,” Nichols said.
A proposal with many of the listed strategies is set to go before the UW Board of Trustees for possible adoption during a June 15 meeting.