EKU intends to lay off employees, outgoing president warns

jkegley@herald-leader.comFebruary 8, 2013 

Eastern Kentucky University will lay off employees as it seeks to reallocate 10 percent of its budget, outgoing President Doug Whitlock announced this week.

News of the work-force reduction was included in the last paragraph of an email Whitlock sent to faculty and staff Thursday that explained how and why the university intends to alter spending. A statement that included bullet points from the email was released to media outlets Friday.

The university has not determined how many or which employees will be let go, or when they might be notified. Whitlock said employees who are eligible to retire will be encouraged to do so.

"I am committed to this being a fair and humane process, but it must also be one driven by our decisions relative to (our) core mission," Whitlock's email said. "One of the most pressing tasks at hand will be the development of a process to govern a reduction in force."

The expected staff cuts come as EKU evaluates programming and services in an attempt to free up about $23 million for new priorities, including employee raises, program improvements and new strategic initiatives.

Craig Turner, chairman of the EKU Board of Regents, said the reallocation of funds was intended to shore up the university's hallmark programs.

"I've used the example that we need to shed weight and build muscle," he said.

A recently appointed Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force will examine all aspects of EKU's spending by April 1 and then make recommendations on where cuts can be made by May 1, Whitlock said.

Whitlock, who will retire July 31, said his successor will help figure out what core programs and services to imbue with the freed-up funds.

The overhaul stems from a budget shortfall caused in part by reductions in state funding to all public universities, Whitlock and Turner said. State funding for EKU has dropped 16.4 over the last five years, they said.

Officials from the University of Kentucky also partially blamed a reduction in state funding last year when they laid off 140 employees, about 1 percent of its work force.

"Financial support from the state isn't getting any greater, so we need to be proactive in finding out how we can be more self-sufficient," Turner said.

Whitlock also noted that student enrollment had declined by about 400 students in the last two years to about 15,300. EKU has developed a plan to increase enrollment, but "you can't bank on unrealized tuition revenues to bail you out," he said.

The university has dealt with previous budget shortfalls by upping tuition for in-state students and instituting a hiring freeze. Faculty and staff have not received significant raises "in quite some time," Turner said.

Whitlock's email to faculty and staff was prompted in part by concerns from some faculty that they were not represented well enough on the Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force.

Professor Christiane Taylor, president of the Chair's Association, a group of department heads at EKU, sent an e-mail to Whitlock asking him to explain how the task force differs from the standing Strategic and Financial Planning Council, which has several faculty representatives.

"The next day, the Chairs' Association received a reply from President Whitlock, which was identical to the letter sent to the rest of the institution," Taylor said in an email. "In that letter, he explained his rationale for Task Force membership and clarified the relationship between the Task Force and the existing university committee."

Whitlock explained in his email that the Strategic and Financial Planning Council will review all of the task force's recommendations.

Messages seeking comment from the chairman and vice-chairman of the EKU Faculty Senate were not returned Friday afternoon.

Whitlock, 69, announced his retirement in August. He indicated that pending budget restructuring played a role in his decision to retire.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished on my watch, but this institution needs a new capital campaign, and you have to have the same president from start to finish," he said at the time.

Turner, who is chairman of the Presidential Search and Screening Committee, said he couldn't reveal much about the search for Whitlock's replacement. He said the committee will narrow the field to eight or 10 candidates at a meeting Feb. 20.

"Right now we have a really strong-looking pool of candidates," he said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service