Preparing to spin ‘The Wheel of Cuts’ yet again

Andrew Henderson

Ladies, gentlemen, friends, adversaries and anyone out there with a basic cable subscription, welcome to another exciting round of “The Wheel of Cuts.”

That’s right, folks, here at WKU we’re about to play another round of everyone’s favorite late-night game, “The Wheel of Cuts,” where everything is reduced and the administrative salaries do matter and are safely tucked away.

Once again, WKU is facing the horrors of a budget reduction. In an email to faculty and staff, President Gary Ransdell said approximately $6.5 million is needed to balance the university budget before the end of 2017 fiscal year.

According to Ransdell, this year’s shortfall is a result of two main issues. One being students who owe the university tuition dues; approximately 1,000 students collectively owe the university $2.9 million. The other reason has to do with decreases in enrollment.

“We have not fully offset losses in traditional part-time students and international enrollments, with growth in out-of-state domestic and online enrollments,” Ransdell wrote in the email.

Now, the state of higher education funding in Kentucky is dismal, in no small part thanks to Gov. Matt Bevin. Of course, state funding for universities has been incremental or nonexistent the past few years, but Bevin’s actions certainly exacerbated the wound which had been pestering for so long.

We played “The Wheel of Cuts” this time last year as well, seems like it was just yesterday.

To ease the storms then, we had a tuition increase, approved by the Council on Postsecondary Education, administrative “reorganization,” which is more or less a fancy term for cutting either departments or jobs and shifts in university funding.

In this last round of our game, everything was fast paced. Ransdell sent out the mass email and everyone in the Herald newsroom entered defcon five. There was a press conference just within a few hours of the announcement.

Just a few days later, an open forum was held on campus regarding the reductions. I still remember the sheer irony of being in the room with concerned students, faculty and staff as they were now permitted to ask questions which affected their futures. They were permitted after the fact, not before.

That forum was an absolute disgrace. One student asked about a class she needed to take in order to graduate on time, which had been suddenly canceled. Provost David Lee began to solicit ideas from her about what she thinks they should do on that issue. Lynne Holland, chief diversity officer, pleaded with students to trust the administration, but said the forum was not the appropriate time to voice the kinds of concerns that were being raised.

Last year, I asked “when is the appropriate time,” to ask such questions, and it’s clear the answer is now. Ransdell said the Administrative Council should be finalizing the plan to balance the budget by the end of the month.

If the administration is at all serious about considering the interests of its constituents then forums are required and they are required now. Hearing from students, faculty and staff should be a requirement not an option for the administration to do when balancing this budget.

Decisions like these cannot continue to be made at the top without consideration and at the expense of others. And if they are, maybe we all have even less shared governance at this university than we thought.

Correction: a previous version of this story said “approximately $6.5 billion is needed to balance the university budget before the end of 2017 fiscal year.” Actually, approximately $6.5 million is needed to balance the budget. The Herald regrets this error.