University of Kentucky faculty group accuses Capilouto of creating 'false crisis'

Eli Capilouto
Eli Capilouto Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky Senate Council sent a scathing memo on Thursday to President Eli Capilouto over past and upcoming budget cuts, complaining about a lack of transparency and accusing him of creating a "false crisis."

"Faculty recognize that the reduction in state government support represents a small part of the budget cutback," council chairwoman Lee X. Blonder wrote in the memo. "As such, they feel that the current crisis is largely due to presidential priorities that include new spending proposals in excess of $50 million."

Capilouto's initiatives include a new debt service fund of $15 million to help with construction projects, expanded scholarships, a 5 percent merit raise pool and other strategic investments.

Chemistry professor Bob Grossman, vice chairman of the Senate Council, said the purpose of the memo was "to communicate that the faculty are extremely unhappy with how he (Capilouto) has been handling the state budget cuts. He talks about how important undergraduate education is, but on the other hand, we're facing very large cuts, some of which are not due to the state budget, but are due to decisions that he made."

The memo comes amid continued confusion over what the next round of spending cuts will bring, and a week before the Board of Trustees holds a retreat to discuss pressing issues facing the university.

Earlier this year, UK found out it would lose $20 million in state funding over the next two fiscal years. Because of other increased costs, including Capilouto's new priorities in the $2.6 billion budget, a $43 million hole had to be filled.

In June, UK officials announced that 140 people, about 1 percent of UK's 14,000 employees, would lose their jobs in the first major layoffs in recent memory. An additional 164 positions have been left unfilled.

The university faces another round of budget cuts, which officials say must take place before January. However, administrators say they don't know what form the cuts will take or how they will be affected by tuition dollars brought by 400 additional freshman who came to school this fall.

The memo, based on several faculty meetings of about 96 people and an electronic survey, recommends that Capilouto halt the second round of cuts to academic units, require administrators to take salary cuts and provide better information to faculty and staff. UK has about 2,000 faculty.

In a phone interview Thursday, Capilouto said he welcomes "constructive feedback" and is continuing to make his way around campus talking to people about the budget. Capilouto said his priorities came out of his initial listening tour of people across the UK community, rather than solely the Board of Trustees.

"This is part of the process we're going through to make informed and better decisions," he said. "We are engaging our community to fully understand the issues they face."

Capilouto has continuously cited three priorities from the Board of Trustees that have formed his decisions: an enhanced focus on undergraduate education, new residential and classroom buildings, and better compensation for faculty.

Capilouto said that since 2007, UK has lost $50 million in state funding but has increased instructional faculty by 9 percent.

Faculty and staff have been highly critical of how layoffs and budget cuts were carried out. The memo says long-time professors "stated that the budget process was lacking in vision, poorly managed, and potentially disastrous for the University."

Changes in the budget will damage undergraduate and graduate education, the memo says.

"Faculty expressed anger regarding the administration's publicized focus on excellence in undergraduate education while at the same time stripping funding from educational units," the memo says.

Hollie Swanson, past chairwoman of the faculty council, said the memo reflects "tremendous frustration from faculty who want to make sure we are giving our students a quality education. What we're asking is an understanding of the ramification of these cuts."

Swanson said UK has always struggled with communication problems because messages are always sent from the top down.

"Our anxiety is really up there because we don't know what's in store for the future," she said. "And that's true for higher education in general."

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