Education

Capilouto: Bevin’s budget brings ‘significant challenges’ for University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto speaks about the efforts to create a more inclusive UK at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration in Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky., Monday, January 18, 2016.
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto speaks about the efforts to create a more inclusive UK at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration in Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky., Monday, January 18, 2016. Herald-Leader

Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed two-year state budget poses “significant challenges” to the University of Kentucky, UK President Eli Capilouto said in a campus-wide email Wednesday.

Under the Republican governor’s plan, UK would have to cut $12.6 million, or 4.5 percent, from its state appropriation in the ongoing fiscal year that ends June 30. On July 1, a new cut of 9 percent would mean UK gets $25.2 million less next fiscal year than it was supposed to get this year.

“Certainly, the magnitude of reductions in the governor’s budget proposal presents significant challenges to our university,” Capilouto wrote.

It’s not yet clear what impact the cuts might have at UK or other public universities. Neither Capilouto nor other state officials would say if tuition might increase more than expected next year, although big increases have occurred at most schools during years when the state made smaller cuts.

“It is too early to tell, but it certainly puts more pressure on the question of tuition,” said Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Capilouto noted that there is a long legislative process before state budgets are approved, with plenty of lobbying to do before then. On Wednesday, for example, House and Senate leaders disagreed over the extent of Bevin’s authority to enact a mid-year budget cut.

“We have essential work to do and a powerful story to tell,” Capilouto wrote.

He added: “We will not trim our aspirations. But we do have to find more creative ways to power our progress.”

The 4.5 and 9 percent cuts are also being applied to all state cabinets, with several individual programs being exempted.

Bevin’s proposed budget for the second year of the biennium is even more mysterious. Under Bevin’s proposal, UK would receive $254 million in base funding from the state. But one-third — roughly $84 million — would be taken back to start a new statewide fund that will be disbursed to universities according to certain performance criteria. By 2019, according to Bevin, all state funding to higher education will be based on their performance, but no one knows exactly what the criteria will be.

The Council on Postsecondary Education proposed a plan for awarding funding on criteria such as graduation and retention rates, but Bevin said Tuesday that wasn’t adequate because it wasn’t focused enough on workforce development.

Instead, he said, his funding model will be based on outcomes such as how many students graduate in scientific fields, or “what people want,” he said.

“There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors, there just will,” he said Tuesday. “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so, they’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.”

The performance funding formula recommended by the council includes a criteria that rewards schools for the number of science and technology graduates, but King said it was not clear whether Bevin knew that detail.

By proposing that government, rather than students themselves, should decide what they study (and apparently what ‘people want’), Governor Bevin makes it harder for Kentucky college students to bring their international knowledge and experience back home and impoverishes the commonwealth he no doubt wishes to enrich. A great state like Kentucky, I would suggest, deserves well and broadly funded public universities.

Jeff Peters, a French literature professor at UK

Nonetheless, Bevin’s statement has alarmed French literature professors as well as liberal arts professors in general.

Jeff Peters, a French literature professor at UK, immediately penned an editorial addressed to Bevin in which he noted that Bevin himself received a major in East Asian studies, studied in Japan, and still went on to have a successful career in business and public service.

“Our former majors are now educators, translators, business people, doctors, and lawyers throughout Kentucky,” Peters wrote. “By proposing that government, rather than students themselves, should decide what they study (and apparently what ‘people want’), Governor Bevin makes it harder for Kentucky college students to bring their international knowledge and experience back home and impoverishes the commonwealth he no doubt wishes to enrich. A great state like Kentucky, I would suggest, deserves well and broadly funded public universities.”

One of Peters’ colleagues, Julie Human, is a Menifee County native who was educated in the Menifee public schools, then attended Transylvania University, UK and the University of Michigan before returning to UK as a French literature professor.

“It’s really disheartening,” Human said. “It’s hard to see how he (Bevin) doesn’t value this kind of education, and this kind of study.”

King and the state’s university presidents had a conference call with Bevin on Wednesday morning about the budget. They talked about the value of a liberal arts education, King said, and about how some government rules might be lifted to save money. For example, state tuition waiver programs for particular groups, such as the children of some veterans, are very expensive, King said.

“He (Bevin) challenged them and us to come up with ways to save money,” King said.

King said that while he was disappointed by the cuts, he understands the state’s financial climate. He was also glad the governor gave some equity funding increases to Western Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University. In the last decade, those two schools saw huge enrollment increases, but were never given extra funding for them.

Reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this story.

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