The University of Kentucky would drain most of its reserve funds for classroom improvements and scholarships and freeze hiring for as many as 150 positions if forced to cut its budget by 4 percent.
The long-term effects would be severe, the university warned in a three-page draft of how it would carry out a $12.7 million reduction in state funds. Undergraduates "would bear the brunt of the consequences" with less availability of classes causing graduation delays and a possible double-digit tuition increase next year if the cuts are extended.
UK broadly outlined its reduction plan to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education late Wednesday after Gov. Steve Beshear's budget office requested plans from every state agency and public university. The state is scrambling to cope with an expected shortfall of $456 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2009.
UK's document doesn't put dollar amounts next to each item to be cut, but it foreshadows tough days ahead. The state has already scaled back funding to UK by $20 million in the last 11 months.
President Lee T. Todd Jr., in an interview Wednesday, said that if the 4 percent reduction is ordered by the state, it would be the eighth state funding cut since he took the helm of UK in 2001.
"At the end of my ninth year, our state funding will be $1.3 million more than when I started here," he said. "We've increased by 2,000 students since then ... and so it's just tough."
UK's three-page budget cut document released Wednesday warned that if a 4 percent cut is extended into the 2009-2010 academic year, other jobs could be cut, salaries would likely be frozen for the second straight year and tuition could be raised by more than 10 percent. UK approved a 9 percent tuition increase for this year.
An immediate effect of a midyear cut would be extending UK's hiring freeze, which could affect "as many as 70 faculty and 80 staff positions," the budget document said.
Todd said that's derailed the courtship of prominent professors in which candidates were "already in the pipeline." For instance, the mathematics department had planned to hire a professor from among three finalists from Rutgers, University of California-Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology.
"They had already been interviewed, made it through the hurdles and now it's been put on hold," he said.
Other key steps UK would take include:
■ Seizing all reserve funds, including money set aside for classroom and lab improvements and scholarships.
■ Eliminating the university's "program improvement fund," which was slated to pump money into local school districts to help them bolster the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math.
■ Trimming operating budgets for all departments and administrative units, which include cooperative extension programs.
Todd said the goal has been to shield academic programs as much as possible from cuts, but at some point that becomes impossible, especially as faculty and staff hiring freezes continue.
The university eliminated 71 positions after an earlier round of state budget cuts this year.
Todd said he pleaded with members of the Central Kentucky legislative delegation Tuesday night to refocus efforts to financially back education, especially because the legislature required UK to become a top 20 national research university by 2020.
"I hear so much that it's happening to everybody. It is a national and international problem," Todd said. "But in 1997, the state said it wanted to have us become a Top 20 institution. I don't know any other state that put in statute that they wanted an institution to be Top 20. So we should be different."
State funding has dropped from about 30 percent of the university's revenue to less than 15 percent in 10 years, but Todd said the faculty and administrators still want to stick with the Top 20 Business Plan he proposed in 2006.
Other university presidents said more cuts will likely delay efforts to reach their enrollment goals laid out by the General Assembly in the 1997 higher education reform bill.
"The goals are good," said Michael B. McCall, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. "But I'm not so sure we can reach them by 2020."
He said KCTCS would probably have to extend cuts that would "impact enrollment" and courses offered if forced to slash another 4 percent, which amounts to nearly $8.8 million system-wide.
Murray State University is looking at eliminating "as many as eight to 10" open faculty positions in addition to administrative cuts, said President Randy J. Dunn. Four percent of its state funding would be $2.1 million.
And Morehead State University would have to slash $1.8 million if the 4 percent cuts are ordered.
Morehead President Wayne Andrews said the university would absorb a mid-year cut by freezing positions, scooping money out of its reserves, taking a scalpel to every operating budget and perhaps delaying big-ticket maintenance projects.
"But it's the longer run that's much more problematic," Andrews said. "We're not going to serve as many students. And it's going to drive up the cost of higher education."