BY: KYLE WOOSLEY
The Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force is looking into cutting the faculty and staff tuition waiver program in half. This cut could save the university an estimated $1.2 million.
The tuition waiver allows faculty and staff, their spouses or their dependent children to take up to 12 credit hours for free per semester. The revisions would cut this down to six credit hours per semester for free.
“When we can take reductions in some area without having to layoff staff, that’s an important consideration,” said Janna Vice, co-chair of the task force. “It’s a cost factor for the university.”
Because other public Kentucky universities are mandated by the state to offer six credit hours free of charge, James Street, co-chair of the task force, said it was an option the force had to explore.
“Its beyond what is provided by other state universities,” Street said. “We don’t like to reduce benefits at all. It’s [reallocation] an order of magnitude that dictates every expenditure that the university exercises has to be reviewed in detail.”
The decision to reallocate $23 million, 10 percent of the university’s budget, to the next administration was ordered by the Board of Regents in earlier this year. The task force was assigned to find ways for Eastern to reach this goal before the next administration takes office in July.
The revisions to the waiver program were announced by the task force Monday and will go before the Financial and Strategic Planning Council April 17.
“The reason it was presented on Monday and will be voted on in mid-April is to give time for conversations to be held between faculty and staff,” Vice said.
If the council approves this plan, it will go on to Eastern President Doug Whitlock for further approval.
The plan was presented Tuesday to Faculty Senate. During this meeting, faculty senators were advised to give feedback to Amy Thieme, chair of the budget committee on Faculty Senate and member of the Financial and Strategic Planning Council.
Because of the lack of salary increases, Thieme said she feels it’s not a good decision.
“When you start removing benefits from them it hurts moral,” Thieme said. “Moral has already taken a hit because you haven’t seen any increases in salary and things keep getting more expensive. Taking away something people may be counting on is a step you want to take very cautiously.”
Thieme said the feedback she has received from members of Faculty Senate has been from two perspectives. One consensus from faculty has been that the tuition waiver is not an equally distributed benefit.
“You have people who feel that on one hand the scholarship for tuition has never been a fair and just scholarship because it doesn’t benefit everybody equally,” Thieme said. “Not all people use the tuition waiver. For people who are single and childless, it’s a non-benefit for them.”
The other perspective coming from Faculty Senate, Thieme said, is the benefit the waiver has on faculty development.
“It’s something that separates EKU from other institutions,” Thieme said. “You can use it for faculty development. For people who are counting on that to help put their children through school, the reduction is a great loss for them.”
Thieme said those faculty members leaning more toward the first perspective believe it could save more jobs in the long run.
“In this time when there might be involuntary layoffs, that $1.2 million could retain like more than 10 positions on this campus,” Thieme said. “When you add the human element, you realize faculty would still be getting faculty development and we could help save some positions across faculty.”
Street said he does not support removing faculty benefits, but said the task force was forced to look into it as a possibility.
“It’s just a regrettable situation but we’re in a position where we have to look at everything we’re spending money on and recommend cuts,” Street said. “Everybody it affects will have a negative view of it, as do I. Unfortunately, its one of those areas we’re being forced to look at.”
Thieme said she wanted to have time hear feedback from the people the change will actually impact before the council makes a decision.
“We wanted to ask for more time to collect data so we could get the facts,” Thieme said. “If I don’t have the facts, I don’t feel like I can make an informed decision.”
Street said the task force is in the process of discussing other ways to reallocate the money, but those have not yet been announced.
“There are any number of things being discussed but I’m not at liberty to talk about them at this point,” Street said.
To contact the task force, email BudgetTaskForce@eku.edu.