Regent calls cuts ‘debacle’

By Bryan Richardson

The vice chair of the Kansas Board of Regents used terms such as “surprising” and “irrational” Tuesday to describe funding decisions made by the just-concluded Kansas Legislature.

In a discussion session on the KSU campus, Fred Logan said he considered the cuts “from a policy standpoint to be nothing less than a debacle.”

KSU received a $6.6 million reduction in state general fund money for fiscal year 2014 in the budget passed June 2. That was due to a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut as well as a salary expense reduction based on a March 15 snapshot.

“If we want to be a backwater state, you can go down the path we ended up heading down this legislative session,” Logan said.

Logan said he held hope as late as May 28 that higher education funding would be held flat, and he believed that Gov. Sam Brownback felt the same way. He called the salary decision in particular to be irrational.

“It’s very apparent to me that many legislators don’t quite understand what a research university does,” he said.

Physics distinguished professor Chris Sorensen said a lot of people don’t understand what professors do and the amount of time they put in. “I spend 100 percent of my time teaching and taking care of students,” he said. “I spend the other 100 percent of my time doing science.”

Sorensen referenced a letter from House Appropriations Chair Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, published in The Mercury, in which Rhoades

questioned why improved graduation and employment rates aren’t priorities over “even higher salaries to the already highly paid.”

Faculty and unclassified employees have been seeking salary increases as the average faculty salary continually ranks last in the Big 12 and among peer institutions.

Sorensen said there is a huge divide that needs to be bridged. “I’m very frustrated that we can’t in some manner engage people like Rhoades and really have a constructive dialogue where we settle these differences,” he said.

The talks also turned to salary increases that have been sought by faculty.

English associate professor Christina Hauk said there is anger and distrust among the faculty due to Regents approval of administrative increases. Faculty leaders have put forward data indicating that faculty salaries have increased four percent during the past four years while lower administration salaries increased 11 percent, dean salaries increased 43 percent and upper administration salaries increased 34 percent.

Logan defended the administrative salary increases, saying it is “absolutely critical” to take care of leadership. He used the K-State 2025 plan to become a top 50 public research institution by 2025 as an example of that leadership.

Logan also mentioned the Regents’ support of a three-year plan the K-State administration has developed for salary increases. Administrators plan to set aside $4.5 million in FY14, $9.1 million in FY15, and $7.2 million in FY16 to enhance faculty and unclassified staff compensation. This includes a two percent merit increase pool.

Logan said the worst thing that can happen right now is a split within the higher education community. “We will have better legislative sessions in the future, I assure you,” he said.

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