Reserve fund tapped, search firm announced

Monica Kast

The Board of Regents met Friday to hear from several committees and conduct its second quarterly meeting of the year, when it announced the search firm chosen for the presidential search and approved employee contracts and new majors.

The Finance and Budget Committee approved a withdrawal from the University Reserve Fund if state appropriations are not allocated by June 30. If the state appropriations are not allocated and the draw occurs, the funds will be replenished by October 31, 2017, according to the board.

The draw from the University Reserve Fund would be approximately $3.36 millionPresident Gary Ransdell said the last time an action like this was taken was in 2003.

“In an effort to manage the immediate impact to University employees and students, it is recommended that the Board of Regents approve an allocation from the University Reserve Fund in the amount of $3,359,200 to balance the University budget by year-end,” Action Item FB-6 states.

The Budget and Finance Committee held a discussion about the action item, and some board members were concerned about being able to replenish the funds.

“I do not want to take away from the outstanding job that this administration has done, particularly on waving the flag for higher education in the state of Kentucky,” Regent John Ridley said. “However, I’ve wrestled with this … what message does this send to our student who we are trying to teach to be fiscally responsibility and that in business, you don’t spend money you don’t have?”

Ridley went on to address his concerns about passing this action item, specifically in regards to the price the university would have to pay later and the perception this action would reflect.

Ultimately, the action item was approved, but not unanimously.

President Ransdell addressed budget cuts the university might face for next year and the lawsuit between the attorney general and the governor.

“As of now, the governor believes he has the authority to do this, and the attorney general says he does not,” Ransdell said. “There’s nothing we can do but prepare and assume that the governor is correct and make plans accordingly.”

The Executive Committee also approved the selection of the search firm that will help find candidates for the next university president.

Isaacson, Miller was announced as the search firm the university will use in the presidential search. Jim Cummings, WKU’s chief financial officer, said the final contract is not done yet but will be completed subsequently with the firm’s approval.

At the second quarterly meeting, the Academic Affairs Committee approved several new graduate and undergraduate programs, including  graduate and undergraduate certificates in brewing and distilling arts and sciences.

“This is a niche,” Ransdell said of the brewing and distilling program. “We want to be a global destination for this program.”

The board also had a lengthy discussion about the WKU Pathways program, which would assist “graduate and undergraduate applicants who fall just short of our admissions criteria,” according to the information item from the Academic Affairs Committee.

Faculty Regent Barbara Burch brought up the NAVITAS program, whose contract with WKU was terminated earlier this year. She had questions about how the new Pathways program will operate compared to NAVITAS.

“As you’re describing the direction we’re going, are we going to look at students coming in and decide if they’re directly admissible or need Pathways or need [English as a Second Language International], or are we going to intentionally recruit students?” Burch asked.

Provost David Lee called Burch’s question the “$64 million question,” and said his preference would be that WKU recruit students who are already fully admissible.

In the full Board of Regents meeting, the employment contracts for Stansbury, football Head Coach Jeff Brohm and Athletic Director Todd Stewart were approved.