UK’s College of Arts and Sciences will lay off at least 30 staffers in the next few weeks to solve a $4 million deficit in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The shortage has nothing to do with upcoming state budget cuts, official said. Instead, it happened when contracts from foreign governments — including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Brazil and Ecuador — to teach their students English as a second language dried up unexpectedly.
Lisa Wilson, associate provost for finance and operations, said that unlike most federal grants, the contract money was not guaranteed for any amount of time. Nevertheless, Dean Mark Kornbluh used the money as a recurring revenue stream for hiring and other uses in the college.
Kornbluh is on vacation and unavailable for comment. He has been dean since 2009 and makes $338,000 a year.
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“The dean has owned what’s happened,” Wilson said.
The college won’t be able to save $4 million by the end of June, so it must pay back the $4 million to UK’s central administration, Wilson said. No faculty will be affected by layoffs, but the staffers affected could include lecturers. UK officials are sending a letter today to college employees explaining the cuts. Affected employees will be notified later in the month.
Discretionary spending, such as for travel and conferences, will also be cut.
Wilson said the contracts grew over the past few years. Foreign governments would send students to the college’s Center for English as a Second Language. Sometimes, students whose English improved enough would start classes at UK.
“It was a revenue stream that was supposed to be very stable,” Wilson said. “They grew staff and lecturers to support that function.”
Since 2013, UK averaged between 250 and 380 students a year, officials said. Students took courses on a quarterly basis, and sometimes stayed for multiple quarters. Spokesman Jay Blanton said that because each contract was structured differently, average prices could not be determined.
The center itself will have to shrink, but the cuts will affect other employees in finance and information technology, Wilson said.
“Our goal was that we want to do things in a way that’s responsible and compassionate,” Wilson said. “The college has to figure out how to pay the funds back … the dean and provost have had some pretty tough conversations in a way that’s putting the college on a positive footing.”
The college is UK’s largest and employs about 200 staff.
Sheila Brothers, staff trustee on the Board of Trustees, said her heart went out to affected employees.
“I would have thought university leadership would have something in place to prevent this scenario — where non-recurring funds are used for recurring needs like payroll,” she said.
Staff generally bear the burden of financial problems because most faculty are protected by tenure, which makes layoffs difficult, if not impossible.
“I obviously think it’s not fair for staff to bear the burden of shortfalls, but faculty do have job protections. That’s the way things are.”
The situation could worsen starting July 1 because of state budget cuts of 4.5 percent.