Thursday, February 29, 2024

Nine programs, 24.5 faculty jobs on chopping block at University of Nebraska at Kearney

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KEARNEY, Neb. — The news wasn’t good this week at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

On the chopping block are 24.5 faculty positions and nine academic degrees, Chancellor Doug Kristensen told a crowd of at least 200 people.

“Nobody wants to be here, but if we don’t make these decisions, they will be made for us,” he said about the formal two-month process in which UNK faculty and administration developed a plan to slice $6 million from spending as UNK’s share of the University of Nebraska system shortfall of $58 million.

The shortfall includes the effects of inflation, declining enrollment and the Nebraska Legislature.

Kristensen said UNK has a head start on its budget-cutting plan, but that won’t make things easier for faculty whose jobs will be lost or students whose degrees could be eliminated.

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Faculty members had been waiting several months to hear whether they would still have their jobs in a year, but it was students in UNK’s theater program who put a face on the news.

Jack Garrison, a retired theater professor, was among those protesting the loss of the UNK theater program, which is among Chancellor Doug Kristensen’s proposed budget cuts.

“We are so disappointed we haven’t felt any support from the administration,” said one student during a Q&A session.

Senior theater major Laura Rozema said through tears that she’s grateful to be graduating, but she feels badly for those she’ll be leaving behind.

“I feel so sad. Art is what keeps us alive,” Rozema said. “Our community is rich in the arts. I don’t know how the community will react.”

Theater is among the nine degrees selected for elimination under the budget-cutting plan that Kristensen presented Monday. He’ll turn over the finished recommendation to University of Nebraska President Ted Carter on Dec. 1.

UNK Budget cuts:

A crowd of about 200 heard Chancellor Doug Kristensen announce Monday that 24.5 faculty positions and nine programs will be cut to achieve some of the budget reductions that campuses in the University of Nebraska system must make.

Joining theater among the nine degrees set for elimination are bachelor degree programs in business intelligence emphasis; geography (BS and BA); geography and geographic information science; geography 7-12 teaching subject endorsement; musical theater; recreation management; and recreation, outdoor and event management.

Whether those degrees are eliminated will rest with the NU Board of Regents, Kristensen said.

The sum of the cuts he presented Monday would hack away at UNK’s budget gap of $4.3 million and “hold back” of $1.6 million for a shortfall total of nearly $6 million.

Kristensen said a hiring freeze has resulted in 77 faculty positions left vacant. Those vacancies have resulted in continued savings of about $4.1 million this academic year and, Kristensen said, “they’ll probably save enough to get us through this year.”

Although the hiring freeze saved dollars, it failed to boost the campus’s strategic focus, Kristensen added.

A UNK press release labeled Kristensen’s proposed cuts as a significant restructuring effort.

“While these reductions are a significant step, we are actively exploring additional cost-saving measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of our institution,” Kristensen said.

UNK will phase out its theater and recreation management programs, as well as the geography department. All of the programs being discontinued fail to meet the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education minimum performance standard of seven-plus degrees awarded per year.

Students enrolled in programs that are being eliminated still will have the opportunity to fulfill their graduation requirements, according to the press release.

The breakdown of faculty positions to be eliminated is theater, 4; English, 3.5; music, 3; communication, cyber systems, math & statistics, and modern languages, 2 each; and art & design, history, kinesiology & sport sciences, Montessori early childhood, philosophy, physics and astronomy, 1 each.

Employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be notified by May and supported through the transition until May 2025. Several positions being eliminated are currently vacant, being vacated by retirees or held by employees opting for voluntary departure agreements.

“These are undoubtedly challenging times, but we are taking decisive action to position UNK for the future,” Kristensen said. “We have conducted a comprehensive review of our degree programs. Consequently, some programs will be phased out or restructured to better serve the evolving needs of our students and community.”

UNK Budget Cuts

Kristensen said that if UNK officials didn’t decide what budget cuts to propose, someone else would, and the result would harm UNK.

In addition to the hiring freeze, the university is undertaking budget reviews and considering recommendations to reduce $2 million across various areas that include:

Administrative reduction — $400,000

Enrollment management, marketing & student affairs — $300,000

Office associate redeployment — $300,000

Division of business & finance — $200,000

Intercollegiate athletics — $200,000

Departmental operating funds — $120,000

Calvin T. Ryan Library — $80,000

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