UK president putting budget eggs in wrong baskets

Peter Perry is a College of Arts and Sciences distinguished professor who has taught at the University of Kentucky for 27 years.
Peter Perry is a College of Arts and Sciences distinguished professor who has taught at the University of Kentucky for 27 years.

The University of Kentucky Senate Council — a body that includes senior faculty, student representatives and faculty trustees — has raised serious questions about the direction that our president proposes to take UK. It is important for UK students and Kentucky's taxpayers to understand how serious these concerns are and how the president and faculty can address them together.

First, everyone agrees with President Eli Capilouto that the university cannot reasonably expect additional support from a cash-strapped state government that must meet urgent needs elsewhere.

Second, the faculty leadership — many of whom are department chairs, associate deans and deans who manage multimillion-dollar budgets and have worked through previous budget cuts — understand that everyone needs to sacrifice and work harder to meet the challenges before us.

Like many faculty at the open forums that resulted in the Senate Council's letter, I would rather pass up a promised 5 percent increase in our salaries than see lecturers, teaching assistants and staff who are vital to the university's mission told to pack up and leave.

Third, everyone I have talked to agrees that over the long term, investing in student scholarships and physical infrastructure, as the president proposes, will benefit the university.

What we cannot accept is the president's insistence that core academic programs must be gutted now to fund expensive new initiatives that cost far more than the state's budget cut to UK. In my own department of mathematics, the full cut will cost the equivalent of teaching 30 classes per semester, forcing us to increase class sizes and cut back student services.

For example, these cuts will end the MathExcel program, which for nearly 20 years has helped first-year students succeed in calculus through intensive problem-solving workshops in a friendly, collaborative atmosphere.

What message do we send to students and parents when we increase the size of our freshman class by 400 students each year to boost revenue but drastically cut support to the units that are supposed to teach them?

What message to do we send to the state's own students when we cut teaching resources but lure out-of-state students with expensive scholarships?

How many of those students will take the bait if our teaching resources compare so poorly with those of our competitors? What good are new buildings if the human infrastructure of the university is decimated?

The leadership at UK needs to make an immediate about-face, halt further budget cuts and set viable, informed and mutually acceptable guidelines for further action.

UK's academic leaders have presented the president with a detailed set of concerns and a set of concrete steps he can take to move his initiatives forward and preserve the integrity of our core academic programs. The president owes it to the students and the taxpayers to act on them.

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