Hiring process changes to address budget deficit

Emma Collins

WKU has re-evaluated its hiring process and will fill only job openings critical to the university in an attempt to stabilize the university’s $10 million budget deficit. Additionally, promotions and raises will also be subject to approval by committee, according to administrators.

The hiring process will now require department heads to submit a job request to the Personnel Actions Approval Committee, or PAAC, Ann Mead, senior vice president for finance and administration, said.

The committee will decide if the request is a “critical need” that needs to be filled. She said the PAAC will evaluate all open and any future positions.

“It just interjects a level of extra scrutiny before we actually search for positions,” Mead said.

Mead said WKU has never used this process before, so the administration is “trying to develop the rules” for the process. She said it is common for universities to “reevaluate hiring processes,” and several other universities use a similar process when looking to fill open positions.

“If you want to try to curtail your expenditures, then you go to where you spend your money, and we spend a majority of our money on personnel,” Mead said.

Mead said if a department head thinks there is a crucial position that needs to be filled, then he or she will use WKU’s hiring software to answer questions about the open position. PAAC will then review the request and decide if the position will be filled or remain open.

She said the PAAC consists of Human Resources Director Tony Glisson, a representative from the Provost’s office and a representative from the Office of General Counsel.

Mead said if the PAAC approves a request, then she will also approve the request to fill the position. She said she will also evaluate all the requests the committee turns down to determine if the position can remain empty.

Mead said it was important to understand the changes are not a hiring freeze. She said the changes are “putting extra scrutiny before we do proceed with advertising or filling a position.”

She said WKU wants to ensure there will not be any negative consequences for not filling a position, and positions related to enrollment and retention will probably be filled. Some job searches, such as the searches for a new dean for the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and a new provost, will continue, she said.

The change was announced last week in an email from President Timothy Caboni to all faculty and staff. Caboni said WKU currently faces a $10 million budget shortfall, with this year’s budget balanced by the use of carry-forward funds, which are a one-time solution. An expected decrease in enrollment and potential cuts to state funding will only worsen the situation. He said WKU must carefully use every available resource, including “human capital,” to make sure the university is as financially stable as possible.

WKU’s 2017-2018 budget is $413.7 million, and $179.5 million, or 43 percent, is spent on personnel costs, according to the 2017-2018 budget presentation. Over 65 percent of the budget is made up of a combination of state funding and students’ tuition and fees.

Mead said WKU’s budget is driven primarily by changes in enrollment and tuition revenue, as well as state funding, and the biggest challenge WKU has faced has been a decline in enrollment. She said Caboni is also thinking ahead to the upcoming legislative session where legislators will work to reform the pension system and may cut state funding to universities.

“He’s trying to position us in a conservative fiscal point that we can handle what’s coming our way,” Mead said. “We just don’t know, we’re just trying to be prepared.”

Glisson sent an email to all faculty and staff containing personnel actions approval procedures explaining the criteria used by the PAAC and other details about the changes.

According to Glisson’s email, a critical needs request must meet at least one of two criteria to be considered by the PAAC. The first is not filling the position will put WKU out of compliance with external requirements or accreditation standards. The second is that the position must allow WKU to implement goals, reorganize in a way that saves money, improve recruitment and retention or address necessary functions and services. Meeting one or more of the guidelines does not guarantee that request will be accepted.

The email said the new criteria for filling empty positions will apply to all full-time and part-time faculty and staff and any temporary positions. There are currently 159 full-time, part-time and temporary faculty and staff positions listed as available on WKU’s employee page. Of those 159 openings, 142 are for faculty members.

Greg Hackbarth, Staff Council chair, said he has not heard anything from staff members about the announcement. He said no one has spoken directly with the council yet about the changes, but representatives from Human Resources will be at the next Staff Council meeting on Nov. 1. He said he expects staff members will have questions and comments about the changes during that meeting.

“What’s unclear to me is how the PAAC may compromise when they decide a senior divisional officer’s request can’t be approved as-is,” Hackbarth said in an email.

According to Glisson’s email, position reclassifications requests, salary increases proposed for modified or added duties, requests for market or internal equity salary adjustments, temporary rate increases and monthly stipends associated with extra duties will also be suspended.

Mead said she expects there will be some exceptions made to the suspension of salary increases for increased responsibilities. She said it would be unfair to ask a professor to teach an additional class and then be unable to increase his or her salary.

Mead said there is currently no timeline for how long the changes will last or what the savings from these changes might be.

“There’s no way to particularly estimate what the savings might be, but there will be savings,” Mead said.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 or em[email protected]