University of Kentucky laying off about 140 people, eliminating 164 vacant jobs

lblackford@herald-leader.comJune 6, 2012 

The University of Kentucky will lay off about 140 people in full and part-time positions across campus, losing roughly 1 percent of its workforce in the most severe budget cuts the flagship school has seen in recent memory.

UK Spokesman Jay Blanton said another 120 vacant full-time staff positions and 44 vacant faculty positions will be eliminated, but no faculty will lose their jobs.

Blanton said among the largest impacts are in Information Technology and Human Resources. The IT department laid off 11 of its 240 employees, or about 4.5 percent of its workers. The Human Resources department laid off 5 of its 110 workers.

"This affects managers, directors, staff and administrative support," Blanton said. "There is a broad spectrum of positions and salaries."

All affected employees will receive 90 days notice in lieu of severance packages.

The cuts are part of a new austerity measure required by a $43 million hole in UK's budget, caused by a decrease in state funding and increases in fixed costs, such as healthcare and utilities.

UK President Eli Capilouto acknowledged the ongoing layoffs in a campus-wide email sent late Tuesday afternoon after the Lexington Herald-Leader inquired about the cuts.

Some layoffs started as early as May 29, according to Anissa Radford, an assistant dean for undergraduate affairs at the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

On that day, she and six other employees were summoned one by one to the dean's office, told about their layoffs, handed a sealed letter, given a 5-minute informational lecture and instructed to be out of the building in 10 minutes.

"We were locked out of our computers, our university email deactivated, escorted to the exit door in front of our colleagues at mid-morning with as much of our personal belongings as we could hold," Radford said in an email to the Herald-Leader. "We could not even check our office calendars to see what student appointments were scheduled for later that day and that week."

Radford said she was given no information about how her duties will be handled and was not asked to participate in any kind of transitional strategy.

"The callousness of Gatton College's administration is astounding," she wrote.

Radford's husband, Morris Grubbs, an assistant dean at UK's Graduate School, complained to several members of the UK Staff Senate about the manner of Radford's dismissal.

In his Tuesday email, Capilouto emphasized the importance of treating "those impacted with dignity and compassion during a very difficult time for everyone involved and for our institution."

Radford, who was traveling Wednesday, said she appreciated Capilouto emphasizing the need to show compassion during a painful process.

"I hope this has helped lessen the personal and professional devastation to the others who will be under the ax," Radford said in her email.

Declining state funds

UK, Lexington's largest employer, employs about 2,500 faculty and 9,000 staff. An additional 3,000 employees work for UK Healthcare.

In past years, UK has dealt with budget problems largely by freezing new hiring, eliminating raises and increasing tuition. But last month, Capilouto said UK would cut spending across the campus to make up for a $20 million loss in state funding and an additional $23 million gap from rising fixed costs, such as utilities and health care.

UK has lost $50 million in state funding since 2007, Capilouto said Tuesday.

Under Capilouto's proposed budget, administrative units that report directly to the president would cut spending 11.4 percent during the next two years, while academic units would face 7.5 percent cuts. Faculty and staff would not get a raise in 2012-13 but would share a 5 percent merit pool the next year.

Blanton said neither pay cuts nor unpaid furloughs would be an "effective tool in dealing with the size of the reductions necessary to deal with the budget gap confronting the university."

In particular, he said, furloughs would use a non-recurring source of money to deal with a recurring problem.

Individual epartments are devising a plan to deal with the shortfall on their own, then presenting their decision to the central administration.

In the College of Agriculture, which includes the UK Agriculture Extension Service, officials are closing the 950-acre Eden Shale Research Farm in Owen County; five people work there, and those positions will be eliminated, said Dean Scott Smith.

About 150 head of cattle will be sold, but it's not clear whether the property can be sold or possibly leased.

That closure, however, makes up a small part of the required cuts in the college, Smith said. Most of the college's 7.5 percent cut has been achieved by not filling open positions, he said.

Overall, the College of Agriculture now has 40 fewer positions than it did in 2008, he said. But the college still has more cuts to make, and it's not yet clear if anyone will lose their jobs.

"It's a problem because it (the process) prolongs the agony for existing personnel, and yet the way the decisions are being made, those final decisions have not been made," Smith said.

At the College of Engineering, undergraduate enrollment has grown almost 50 percent in the last four years, but Dean Tom Lester has lost 10 percent of the school's faculty positions through attrition.

He said the number of impacted staff could be in the "double-digits," although some people may be moved to other positions and some have chosen phased retirement.

"The damage is pretty substantial because all these people are good employees," Lester said. "It hurts, but on the other hand, we have to do something, and I appreciate the president is taking the bull by the horns. Once we get through this near-term economic crisis, we'll be in a better position as an institution, but it's going to be real painful getting from here to there."

Board approval

The UK Board of Trustees is scheduled to approve the budget plan at its meeting June 19. At their May meeting, the trustees approved a 6 percent tuition increase.

John Wilson, a faculty trustee, said Wednesday that he wanted to know why the layoffs occurred before the board voted on next year's budget.

"It's an issue that has still not been formally discussed at the board," Wilson said. "I'm sure there are reasons why it's being done prior to the board meeting, but those reasons have not been shared with me."

Although the board of trustees approves the budget, the day-to-day operations of the university are the responsibility of Capilouto, board chairman Britt Brockman said Wednesday.

"He has to make difficult choices and this is one of them," Brockman said. "The board doesn't deal on operational and personnel issues. It's sad that we have to do this, but we are experiencing what other states and other universities have already been through. It's painful and sad and I feel for the people who are affected."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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