May 28, 2023

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Funding Priorities?

It’s ironic at a time when Kansas University officials have stressed the critical importance, necessity, to figure out ways to save money and be more efficient and to reduce the work force on the campus, possibly retiring tenured professors….there are new announcements, or revelations, of major multi-million dollar building projects on the drawing boards.
Apparently there are sufficient funds to build these facilities but a shortage of funds, or a lower priority of funding, for current academic needs.

It’s clear the university’s athletic program is looked to as the most important current need by Strong Hall leaders. A recent story told of upcoming KU requests for Regents’ approval for:

• A $20 million renovation of Allen Fieldhouse (to be funded by the KU Athletics Department, which has been complaining of tough financial hardships) and, private donations;
• A $22 million renovation of Hoglund Ballpark, again funded by the hard-up KU Athletics Department, and, private donations;
• A $300 million, two-phase, renovation of KU Memorial David Booth Stadium, again funded by the KU Athletics Department, and, private donations;
• A $21 million renovation of the Kansas Memorial Union Building, funded by Union and student fees;
• A $44 million improvement of parking facilities, funded by parking fees;
• And, the next largest project, following the stadium remodeling, a $200 million science building that would be funded by university funds, student fees, private gifts and federal funds.

Added to these recent announcements, KU Alumni Association officials announced a few weeks ago plans for a $21 million expansion of the Adams Center building, funded by private donations and university support.

All these projects are being announced during a period when KU officials are calling for the support, patience, trust and understanding by KU faculty in these days of the perilous fiscal position of the University.

KU provost and executive vice chancellor, Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, in a message to staff and faculty, told of the tight fiscal environment at KU and efforts to handle the “shortfall”. She said, “Some may doubt the seriousness of the situation and the need to respond swiftly or innovatively.” She added, “While I also have wondered about what the exact number of our shortfall would turn out to be, one fact has become very clear to me. The university is facing a structural deficit that we must address through a wide variety of means and angles.”

The university also produced a video of Jeff DeWitt, the university’s new Chief Financial Officer, the Chancellor and Bichelmeyer discussing the strategy planned to meet the school’s financial challenge, what is “on the road ahead” and how to reach fiscal stability.

Groups of faculty have questioned whether a “no confidence” vote should be held to express their disappointment and lack of confidence in Chancellor Girod and Provost/Vice Chancellor Bichelmeyer leading the University. Within the past few days a faculty leader said his group was “appalled” KU had submitted a request to the Regents to begin working on a new $200 million building in fiscal 2023.

This faculty spokesperson said KU is in a period of “fiscal austerity” during which various departments have been asked to make severe cutbacks and faculty have lost their jobs. He also expressed the faculty belief there is little transparency by KU executives in informing the overall university community of planning for the future.

There are increasing questions by faculty, and perhaps university officials, of why many of KU’s present needs, particularly those in the academic arena, could not be funded by monies in the KU Endowment Association. A major breakthrough in KUEA policies was made several months ago when KUEA officials, following a request by Chancellor Girod, made a $33 million gift to KU to meet current needs. Now faculty, students and others wonder why a good portion of the approximate $130 million in unrestricted KUEA funds couldn’t be used to help out in the current fiscal crisis.

It’s not a good situation. The announcement of the numerous multi-million dollar athletic department programs and the $200 million academic building and the calls for fiscal restraint, questionable confidence in the school’s leadership, the termination of many on Mt. Oread and, the frustrations caused by the pandemic all combine to paint a fragile community looking for strong, visionary leadership.