EKU board finalizes program closures and 153 job cuts. Two sports teams eliminated.

Students walked on the Eastern Kentucky University campus in Richmond, Ky.
Students walked on the Eastern Kentucky University campus in Richmond, Ky.

The Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents voted to slash a long list of academic programs, eliminate jobs, close a regional campus and end two sports — men’s and women’s tennis — as part of a brutal budgetary process to solve a $25 million shortfall.

As the meeting started Friday morning, President Michael Benson called it a “perfect storm” of decreasing enrollment, declining state support and increased pension costs.

The program cuts have been deliberated for weeks by the school’s academic affairs committee, helped by departmental data on enrollment, costs and mission.

Benson reiterated a plea from committee members and the faculty senate to spare some programs on the chopping block, including theater and majors and minors in economics, but regents voted to move forward with all but one proposed program suspension: a graduate program in school psychology. That program will be considered at their June meeting.

“I’m shocked and saddened that the board voted against the entire academic community at EKU, including the council on academic affairs, the faculty senate and President Benson,” professor John Fitch said after the meeting.

The regents also voted to eliminate 153 positions, about 96 of them currently filled. Budget documents showed the school can save about $1.6 million from closing its regional campus in Danville and reducing support for its public radio station, WEKU.

Athletics will cut $2 million, including eliminating the men’s and women’s tennis teams.

Nearly every unit on campus saw a decrease in funding. For example, the unit known as student success was slashed by almost $2 million, including 23 staff positions, fewer freshman orientations and reductions in student health and international student recruitment.

The cuts from academic affairs will total about $13.2 million. Other program suspensions include an associate degree in nursing, a religion minor, a bachelor’s in deaf studies and family and consumer science teaching.

The board is planning to create new online bachelors’ degrees in criminal justice, business administration, communication studies and sports management in an attempt to create new revenue streams.

“I know this is a day that every board member has given a tremendous amount of thought to,” Craig Turner, chairman of the board of regents, said at the end of the meeting. “This has not been easy on anyone … everyone’s efforts are much appreciated.”

EKU is not the only school suffering from financial setbacks. Western Kentucky University recently announced the elimination of 140 jobs and the closure of an academic college, while the University of Kentucky is mulling $200 million in cuts over five years. The recently approved state budget will cut about $25 million more in state funding to the state’s eight public universities.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford