March 22, 2017

Tempers flare in first budget forum

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By Kyeland Jackson —

Interim President Greg Postel faced hard questions in a packed March 21 budget forum.

In the first of two forums, students, faculty and staff filled the Floyd Theater to discuss spending changes. Tempers flared as Postel outlined budget cuts to staunch a $48 million shortfall.

“We have nothing to do with the screw up of the central administration,” Communication Department Chair Al Futrell said. “If we cut arts and sciences … we’re going to cut everything about this university that’s important.”

Futrell and Pan-African Studies Chair Ricky Jones asked Postel to reevaluate budget allocations for distance education. Distance education allows departments to teach classes online, often employing professors across the nation to teach U of L classes.

Futrell said around 43 percent of the money earned from its distance education classes has been returned to the communication department. The rest goes to Arts and Sciences Dean Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, the library, Delphi Center and provost’s office. Extra distance education money goes to central administration, which sends the money back months later. Futrell said the central administration returned less than the full amount of that carryover for years, and returned none of it to the departments this year.

“We got screwed last year. Well, they’re setting us up to do the same thing this year,” Futrell said in an interview after the forum. “We put this carpet in, we painted these walls, we bought these chairs. We do all this stuff mostly that’s supposed to be done by central administration, but they don’t do that so we do it. But, we do it with distance education money.”

Postel said the central administration’s money was spent beforehand, leaving no carryover to return to departments.

“You should have what you earned,” Postel said, referring to teaching revenues.

The $48 million deficit revelation sent tremors across the university, instituting hiring and salary freezes, layoffs, budget adjustments and new spending plans. Postel said the deficit is partially due to “aspirational” budget processes by the prior administration. Budget planning will now use realistic spending and revenue figures to deter future shortfalls, he said. The university also plans to enroll 8,000 more students within years, adding revenue.

A dismal financial position would reflect badly to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Moody’s debt rating service. Moody’s lowered U of L’s debt rating last year, and SACS placed the university on probation in December for possibly violating accreditation standards. Postel said he believes U of L will appease SACS standards, and called the budget shortfall “extremely manageable” from a percentage perspective.

File photo / The Louisville Cardinal

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