Western Kentucky University to cut 140 jobs, eliminate programs

Western Kentucky University will cut 140 positions, eliminate a multidisciplinary college and turn three regional campuses over to a distance learning unit in an effort to offset a $15 million deficit that could worsen with future state funding cuts and increased pension costs.

The Bowling Green school will eliminate 40 vacant jobs and cut as many as 100 positions that are currently filled, President Tim Caboni said Friday in a campus-wide email.

He warned that worse news might still be coming.

“I know this is painful,” Caboni said. “Unfortunately, this is only the first phase. As I have described on multiple occasions, this first $15 million is largely a result of enrollment shifts during the past 4 years. The next challenge for us will come in April when we know the results of the state budget, which is likely to include a significant reduction in our state appropriation and a substantial increase in our employer contributions to the state pension systems. We also will have a better sense in April of what our fixed cost increases will be; and, to be realistic, we will plan for another year of enrollment decline.”

In January, Caboni estimated the university’s deficit could reach more than $30 million because of a 6.25 percent cut in state funding combined with an increased pension contribution of about $9 million a year.

The people losing their jobs will be notified by mid-March, Caboni said.

WKU’s University College, described as a flexible, multidisciplinary center, will be eliminated, and departments within it, such as African-American studies, gender studies and paralegal studies, will be farmed out to other departments.

The university’s three regional campuses in Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Glasgow and Owensboro will now operate under the Division of Extended Learning and Outreach. Caboni said the move will ensure a “more market-driven focus and student service orientation.” He said cost savings will come from efficiencies and from removing duplication that exists under the current structure.

“This is a difficult time in the life of our institution,” Caboni said. “Our fortitude and our leadership will be tested. This is certainly not what I envisioned for my first year as president, but we cannot stick our heads in the sand and fail to address it. My hope is that the strategies we are employing now will ensure that future budgets are more stable, predictable and adequate to support our core mission.”

In addition to state budget cuts and rising pension costs, universities would bear the brunt of $85 million in program eliminations proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Last week, Morehead State University announced it would seek voluntary buyouts of up to 25 employees.

The University of Kentucky faces a potential $16 million cut in state funds and another $10 million in program eliminations, including cancer screening programs, the Robinson Scholars Program that offers scholarships to first-generation college-bound students from Eastern Kentucky, the University Press of Kentucky and the UK Center for Entrepreneurship.

UK is currently looking at ways to soften a $200 million budget gap over the next five years.