By Kyeland Jackson —
In the first of two campus forums this week, Interim President Greg Postel answered questions and criticized the past administration.
Postel began the July 25 forum in a packed Middleton Auditorium by highlighting U of L’s success. Postel said the incoming freshman average ACT scores increased, teacher-to-student ratios are down and the university raised one billion dollars between 2008 and 2015.
But former administration decisions, such as revenue and endowment estimates, haunt the university.
Postel said research funding fell far below the estimates in the 2020 plan. He reported $185 million in research funded between 2008 and now, far below the expected $500 million.
Postel also said the 2020 plan did not consider money needed for resources like upgrading information technology platforms. Because of that, the plan estimated the university’s endowment would reach $3 billion by 2020. Last year, U of L’s endowment totaled $730 million.
“Literally everything we do, every type of research infrastructure necessary to support this type of enterprise, was not methodically put in place. So I guess it’s not a surprise that the rate of growth was as modest as it was,” Postel said at Tuesday’s forum.
Funds aren’t U of L’s only problems.
Postel said the number of undergraduate degree programs is static and the six-year graduation rate is around 50 percent. The four-year graduation rate, he said, is about 25 percent.
“This room will be full of new high school graduates. And I look around on the days when those activities take place and realize that half the people in the room will leave without a degree. It’s sickening,” Postel said. “What could be worse than leaving with debt and no degree? My god.”
Those statistics reinforce the June Alvarez & Marsal’s audit, which alleged former president James Ramsey’s administration overspent, hid information and paid executives millions. Consequences from Ramsey’s administration contributed to U of L’s $48 million deficit.
To fill that deficit, the university explored its options. Postel initiated a hiring freeze, cut budgets and salaries, halted projects and increased student enrollment. One of those initial options included a six percent procurement tax, charging departments for buying office supplies.
Faculty and staff bemoaned that tax, prompting Postel to remove it. He says administrators will look for other revenue sources instead.
“I have been hearing that the idea of taxing procurement at six percent was a lousy idea,” Postel said. “It was never something that people liked the idea of. Well I’m here to say today we are working actively to get rid of it. So for now, it’s suspended.”
Still, faculty and constituents felt departments would unjustly suffer thanks to Ramsey’s actions.
Department of Communication Chair Al Futrell criticized the university for imposing budget restrictions on departments. Futrell said proposed cuts to distance education would trim thousands from his department, hurting U of L’s revenue and graduation rates.
“All the focus groups we’ve done over the years, long before you were interim president, showed that what the students needed was more classes. That’s how you graduate — more classes,” Futrell said. “But when you cut distance education money, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face. You’re going to actually have a decrease in the graduation rate.”
Postel said he’s working with Futrell’s department and the philosophy and Pan-African studies departments to fix anticipated problems such as allocating distance education money. Postel said he may host a panel to gather more input from constituents too.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal