Bulk of proposed University of Nebraska-Lincoln budget cuts will hit faculty/staff salaries

Story and Video by Carl Mejstrik, NewsNetNebraska

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln operates like many businesses. When business is good, there is a profit. When business is bad and revenue isn’t coming in, something needs to change. In this case, that change came in a proposed $4.65 million budget cut.

“The numbers are now in for second semester and while we have a good increase in new student and distance education enrollments, total enrollment is reasonably flat,” UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman wrote in a Jan. 30th email to University staff. “While the revenue prospects of enrollments continue to increase are positive, our current financial situation is difficult.” Click here to see the latest May 6th letter from Chancellor Perlman on the proposed budget cuts.

$3.2 million will be saved by reducing staff salary increase Graphic courtesy of Daily Nebraskan

$3.2 million will be saved by reducing staff salary increase
Graphic courtesy of Daily Nebraskan

What’s Cut?

A large piece of the proposed $4.65 million cuts would be $3.2 million saved by withholding 1 percent of the estimated 3 percent salary increase pool that’s shared among University staff. The Office of Student Affairs would lose more than $475,000 from state funds that would shift expenses to student fees. Other cuts include:

  • $406,000 from educational media support for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • More than $318,000 from the Chancellor’s Budget
  • $200,000 from Academic Affairs for summer session funds
  • $100,000 by cutting weekly floor maintenance to monthly floor maintenance in campus buildings

The current deficit is a result of a $2.2 million carryover deficit from the 2013 fiscal year. It also includes another $800,000 set aside for the budget for the 2014  year, costs and upkeep of new buildings. A growth in online courses taken by resident students resulted in a $1.6 million loss of revenue. Since 2001, this is the 11th time the university has proposed budget cuts or reallocated funds to make up for deficits.

As an incentive to offer more online courses, Perlman offered college departments some of the revenue that came in from costs of enrolling in online classes. However, the average cost for an online course taken by a UNL resident student is $270.14 compared to $614.67 for non-resident students. This led to a loss of revenue despite a 1.2 percent increase in total enrollment at the university.

Back of the Big Ten

Salaries are the biggest part of the proposed cuts. For UNL faculty, whose salaries are already the lowest in the Big Ten Conference. The proposed UNL budget cuts would put them even further behind peer institution colleagues.

UNL ranks lowest in Big Ten for professor and instructor salaries Graphic courtesy of Minnesota Daily

UNL ranks lowest in Big Ten for professor and instructor salaries
Graphic courtesy of Minnesota Daily

Michael Hoffman, an electrical engineering professor, said that his department will see most of the cuts in salaries.

“The staff, administration and faculty will likely see a 44 percent reduction in their base raises for the coming year, from 2.25 percent to 1.25 percent,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman serves as a faculty representative of the Academic Planning Committee, which is made up of faculty, staff and students. It reviews plans made by the chancellor and recommends actions and procedures. Since becoming a member of APC in Sept. 2012, Hoffman said this was the first time he experienced the budget reduction process.

Martha McCollough, an associate professor of anthropology and representative of the department for ACP, also experienced the process for the first time. McCollough found some silver lining to the cuts.

“I thought the budget proposal was good because it did not cut into academic programs,” McCollough said. “[Chancellor Perlman’s] proposal would be a hit for faculty pay, but better I think than a hit to faculty employment.”

A Chance to Speak

On April 16th, the APC held an open hearing for public discussion on changes to the budget proposal. With about twenty people in attendance, the meeting remained mostly quiet with only one comment from Kevin Knudson, the president of ASUN. ASUN is responsible for judicial affairs at the university. Knudson asked why state funding would no longer support judicial affairs. The proposed budget cuts would make student fees pay for judicial affairs funding.

No one on the committee was able to answer the question and instead insisted that the question would be relayed to Vice Chancellor Juan Franco for consideration.

“Seeing that judicial affairs isn’t currently a fee supported unit, I don’t see how they would shift their operational costs and not raise student fees,” Knudson said.

One week later, the 14 person APC panel rejected Perlman’s budget proposal by an 8-6 vote. Even with a majority vote, the APC serves only as an advisory role to the chancellor. Perlman can ignore the vote and choose to proceed with the original proposed budget cuts if he wishes. or he can accept the APC vote and come up with a new plan to address the budget deficit.

What’s Next?

According to UNL news director Steve Smith, the chancellor is working to remove the deficit as quickly as possible, although no timetable is available yet.

“I think the UNL administration and the APC both want the same outcome, minimum impact on the students and the institution. The process in place allows the two sides to share information and ideas and produce a solution that solves the short-term budget crisis,” Hoffman said. “Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right.”

Who has been affected already?

While professors are unhappy to be possible pay increase cuts, not everyone employed by the university have been as lucky. Watch the video below to hear how the budget cuts have already affected one UNL worker.

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