Capilouto hears from disgruntled University of Kentucky faculty for more than two hours

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2012 

Eli Capilouto

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University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto held a lengthy, sometimes contentious meeting with faculty members Monday, in which he promised to consider their concerns over upcoming cuts, a new budgeting system and overall angst about the future of Kentucky's flagship school.

However, Capilouto did not accede to a list of recommendations the University Senate made two weeks ago that included halting the next round of budget cuts altogether and cutting administrative salaries. He did say he would stop certain retirement benefits for future administrators and pledged to add more faculty to committees working on budget cuts.

He talked frequently about the second round of budget cuts, which are being determined through a lengthy process of discussions with departments and units, and interim Provost Tim Tracy. No decisions have been made, he reiterated.

"I understand all your angst about this, but I ultimately trust you to help us make a better-informed, well-reasoned set of decisions about all this," Capilouto told the group.

The first round of cuts in June resulted in the layoffs of 140 employees.

Faculty have accused Capilouto of creating a "manufactured crisis" that stems from the spending priorities Capilouto adopted last year, including a new $15 million debt service fund that he has said will start to ease the university's roughly $1.5 billion in facilities needs. In addition, $10 million was put aside to increase scholarships to attract top students to UK.

"Our academic and student support have taken a substantial cut, and any further cuts will degrade the heart of instructional mission," said Connie Wood, a statistics professor. "In order to build a building fund, academic units and support units have been told to prepare for another 4 plus percent ... have you done a cost-benefit analysis if this fund will offset negative impacts these will have on our education mission?"

Capilouto did not have such an analysis on hand but said UK's aged facilities hurt its research and teaching potential. For example, he said the Chemistry-Physics building on Rose Street "troubles me deeply. It is not a place where modern learning can take place. I am committed to getting that building replaced."

During Monday's discussion, faculty and graduate students frequently brought up concerns over whether cuts would hurt both undergraduate and graduate education, which creates research and a cadre of graduate teachers who handle much of the undergraduate load.

"The graduate program and the research being done actually lead to great undergraduate students," said linguistics professor Andrew Hippisley. "Could you reframe the two as a seamless web?"

Herman Farrell of the College of Fine Arts also brought up a disconnect between the faculty and the Board of Trustees over faculty concerns about the budget.

Last week, trustees Pam May and Barbara Young spoke about the number of faculty involved in creating the recommendations for Capilouto, appearing to question whether a recent critical memo from UK's Senate Council represented a majority of faculty.

"I hope as we go forward that you will convey to them that we are speaking for the faculty," Farrell said to Capilouto.

The lack of details in an unfinished budget process was clearly frustrating to the crowd during the 21/2-hour discussion.

"I'm not convinced there is a crisis, I'm not convinced there is a need to do these budget cuts," said Carlos de la Torre, director of international studies.

An increased teaching load brought about by fewer lecturers and teaching assistants could have the effect of turning a research university into a "mediocre teaching college," he said.

Others were clearly offended by Capilouto's refusal to consider cutting administrative pay. He said administrators came to UK promised a certain contract, and he could not change it.

Graduate student Jason Grant said he turned down offers from Brown University and New York University to stay at UK, which he wanted to do because of exciting research in linguistics. He and 10 other students are teaching more and increasingly larger language classes that have been affected by budget cuts.

"I came to UK on a certain contract, and there's absolutely no difference," Grant said.

"I respect what you say," Capilouto responded. "I have to be honest, too, simply reducing administrative pay is not going to solve these problems."

After the meeting, Capilouto pledged to meet more often with the University Senate and faculty in general to air these kinds of issues.

"I hope he helped bring the temperature down on campus," said University Senate Council co-chair Robert Grossman, "but as the budget comes out we'll see what happens."

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

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