Administrators host budget reduction open forum

Monica Kast

Students, faculty and staff were able to ask questions about the budget reduction plan announced earlier this week in a forum hosted by the Administrative Council and department of human resources on Thursday afternoon in Downing Student Union.

President Gary Ransdell opened the forum by giving background on the state budget cuts that have been talked about since January. Ransdell said that at the beginning of the year, he was optimistic about the state budget. That changed, however, when Gov. Matt Bevin announced cuts to higher education.

“The whole world changed in terms of our perspective on our financial circumstance,” Ransdell said. “Fast forward, we spent most of this legislative session, instead of playing offense, trying to capture additional funding in the state budget process.”

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Ransdell said the council’s priority with the budget reduction plan was to protect credit-bearing academic programs, personnel and essential student services. He said 24 programs will be affected either by elimination or consolidation.

A major part of the budget reduction plan is the transfer of WKU custodial, building services, groundskeeping and waste management on the Bowling Green campus to Sodexo, a privately owned employment management system. As a result of this transfer, Ransdell said, 202 employees were able to keep their jobs.

Employees who will be transferred to Sodexo in the fall were able to ask questions and receive clarification about the change, and Ransdell and Provost David Lee addressed those concerns. Employees were told they would meet individually with representatives from Sodexo, and specific issues and concerns could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

WKU has contracted positions with Sodexo for several years, but Tamela Smith, the Board of Regents member representing staff, said there are concerns from employees who feel like they won’t be able to communicate with Sodexo.

“Some of the people I’ve talked to said there’s some questions for Sodexo that they had, and you might want to try and make sure that those answers are available for them because there is some uncertainty any time there is change,” Smith said. “Maybe it just needs a little more clarification.”

Ransdell said by moving 202 building services employees to Sodexo, WKU was able to protect about 25 jobs. He added that although vacation days are different, the starting wage will be raised by $1, and there are more benefits on Sodexo’s insurance plan.

“I may not get universal agreement on this, but in my heart, I’m genuine in saying that every one of these 202 employees will continue to be members of this university family, and most of you won’t know who’s a Sodexo employee and who’s a WKU employee when you’re working with them near buildings or across the campus or whatever the case might be,” Ransdell said.

Students from the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility were present and voiced concerns about the consolidation of ICSR and the Alive Center.

Aeryn Darst, a Bowling Green senior with a minor in ICSR, raised concerns about changes in ICSR, the reorganization of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and the effect this reorganization might have on campus diversity.

“What I would like to know is how you can justify … subsidizing these things when one of your commitments, your guiding principles for the budget cuts, are a commitment to diversity,” Darst said to Ransdell. “All three of these programs directly serve diversity.”

“Our commitment to diversity is no less today than it was yesterday, or has been, in my mind, for the last 19 years,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell explained that “some programs that are awfully important were reduced or consolidated” to make necessary cuts.

Lee said he was optimistic and thought that the Alive Center and ICSR would function well together and that neither were being eliminated.

Concerns were also raised about the elimination of predoctoral interns from the Counseling and Testing Center. Peggy Crowe, the director of the center, and Brian Lee, staff counselor, spoke of changes to WKU’s counseling and testing services.

Crowe said the elimination of predoctoral interns would have an impact, and as a result, the rest of the department would be taking on a greater caseload.

“I’m confident in my team to make this work and still serve students,” Crowe said. “I have a wonderful staff, and they do great things. But I’m not going to lie that it isn’t going to have an impact.”

Lee said that as of a few days ago, each licensed professional in the center was responsible for serving 2500 students — 1000 students above what is nationally recommended. With the loss of the interns, each professional will be responsible for 3300 students, he said. Lee added that these cuts also mean fewer opportunities for internships for students.

“I’m concerned, but I’m not defeated,” Lee said. Later he added, “this is a tremendous, tremendous challenge for us.”

Other students voiced concerns about cuts to classes and programs, specifically in the communication department and Potter College, that they need to graduate. Lee, who led the meeting after Randsell left to attend an ROTC graduation, said he shared those concerns and said the council was currently looking for solutions.