University of Wyoming officials detailed to lawmakers Thursday a biennium budget reduced by roughly $42 million from the previous biennium.
The cuts were made possible by more than a year of faculty and staff reductions, department reorganizations and efforts to make UW run more efficiently. UW also requested $1 million to support a carbon engineering effort during the State Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee meeting, as well as an additional $100,000 appropriation for the UW Rodeo team and the remainder of the already appropriated $100 million in Science Initiative funding.
“This is my first biennium budget that I’ve helped the university put together,” said David Jewell, UW associate vice president for budgeting and fiscal planning. “I’ve been told, though, that this is one of the thinnest that we’ve put together and so I think that we will see that in terms of what we have really focused our priorities on and understand the fiscal situation that the state currently remains in.”
UW President Laurie Nichols, Jewell and other UW officials explained both the university’s requests for the upcoming biennium and the methods used to cut more than 8 percent of the institution’s budget.
“We have now fully reduced our budget the required amount in excess of $42 million — it’s probably closer to $45 million,” Nichols told the committee, adding the cuts were implemented throughout fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
She added UW cut roughly $19 million from its budget during the first fiscal year, largely through not filling staff and faculty positions open at the time.
“That was about 102 vacancies that we eliminated, which got us a long ways toward that budget reduction,” Nichols said. “We used several other strategies as well.”
While UW informed the committee about this first round of cuts during a similar meeting in 2016, the fiscal year 2018 cuts were detailed for the lawmakers for the first time Thursday.
“We did a major part of that by, first of all, offering an early retirement/separation from the university and that yielded a fair amount of the budget reduction that we needed,” Nichols said. “I was also sitting on about 12 more vacancies that we eliminated, so we continued to use vacancies to the extent that we could.”
But to cut $10 million more from UW’s budget, the university started cutting across divisions.
“It was really driven by the dean, or the vice president, or the unit leader,” Nichols said. “They went into their budgets and offered up money as they saw appropriate.”
The president added she was proudest of the way UW was moving to become more efficient — another large component of the budget cuts.
“We worked very hard on our operations and tried to drive efficiencies into our operations wherever it felt like it made sense, because this was an area we could reduce the budget but hang on to our core mission of teaching and research,” Nichols said.
UW consolidated its fleet of vehicles, brought all IT personnel under one department, downsized Student Health and began buying materials and supplies in bulk and negotiating for better prices.
The $10 million reduction plan also included laying off 37 staff in May.
“In total, we eliminated 370 positions from the university as we worked through this biennium reduction,” Nichols said. “Our budget reduction is complete and we are, as you can imagine, continuing to look at this, rebalancing positions where we need to.”
Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, asked for a greater detail on how cuts were distributed.
“I would be curious if you have a document that was over that whole cut, those two years, including positions and everything, (with) the cuts by college,” he said. “I see the Engineering College and the Law College had very small cuts compared to other colleges. So, I wonder if you look at the whole picture if that’s the case or not the case.”
Nichols said UW had not compiled that information, but could.
“I would say in general, our budget cut in (fiscal year) ’18 was more thoughtful,” she said. “It was more planned and it was much more detailed.”
Nichols said UW was now in engaged in the process of hiring new faculty.
“When we ran that faculty retirement-separation program last year, we had more people come forward, more faculty come forward, than we thought we would,” she said. “We took them all, even though it was more than we really needed because it bought us flexibility and allowed us to do some things strategically that we felt like we could do as a university.”
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kate Miller is working with the college deans on plans to “cluster hire” faculty, Nichols said.
“That means we are hiring a cluster of faculty to come in and buildup or beef up that area,” she said. “One is data science, we think it’s a critical areas for the future, especially where Wyoming is at with (National Center for Atmospheric Research — Wyoming Supercomputing Center). We will be hiring nine faculty in that area spread across probably 4-5 colleges.”
UW also plans to hire four faculty related to entrepreneurship, Nichols said, which should complement the ENDOW initiative to diversify the state economy.
“We are working right now on an Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which would be an entity on campus that is held at the highest level, so that all students will have access to entrepreneurship courses, entrepreneurship learning experiences and we hope we can produce more students ready to be entrepreneurs in the future,” she said.
UW and the committee also talked at length about funding for the Science Initiative Building, whether medical insurance for UW employees should be included in the state block grant or constitute its own appropriation and the state of athletics facilities on campus.