Fiscal Recovery and Responding to the Regents' Temporary Policy

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, 12:11 p.m.
KU Lawrence All Staff, Faculty and Affiliates KU Graduate Teaching Assistants

Watch the video at:  A transcript of the video appears below:

Dear faculty, staff and GTAs,

As you know, last week the Kansas Board of Regents unanimously passed a policy that allows universities to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees using an appeal process through the State until December 31, 2022, and advises universities to present their criteria and process for implementing the policy within 45 days from the board’s action.

Such news can be jarring, and for many across the state, this policy lays bare the severity of the fiscal challenges facing higher education in Kansas. However, at the University of Kansas we have been coping with budget challenges piecemeal for well over a decade. We have been talking about the fiscal challenges we face since last March, when we extended Spring Break and moved to remote instruction. In 2018, my predecessor led campus through a significant FY2019 budget reduction. Higher education in Kansas has been shifting from a state-supported model to a tuition revenue-driven model since the Great Recession.

As recently as two weeks ago, Chancellor Girod alerted the KU community to Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget cut of 5.3 percent to KU for FY2022. It’s an additional setback that contributes to a university-wide projected fiscal shortfall of $74.6 million in FY2022. State budget cuts and COVID-19 losses and expenses are responsible for only a portion. Other causes include declining enrollments and the changing landscape of higher education that involves soaring costs, greater competition, new instructional formats, changing student expectations, and Kansas demographics.

The policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents last week is not a panacea, it is not the answer to our problems at KU, and it’s not one we’ve even begun to fully consider how we would use. As I listened to the Board discuss the policy last week, it seemed to me they are providing this tool because they are concerned about our productivity, our relevance, and even the value we provide. This is one way of challenging us to be as efficient and as effective as we can be in service to our State. I believe we are up to the challenge.

I want to be absolutely frank and honest with you all. As Provost, I’m not yet inclined to say we will need the tool they provided, and I am ready to do the work necessary to avoid it, but I’m also not yet able to say we won’t need the tool. Our fiscal health depends on how well we attract new students this spring and next fall. Even more importantly, it depends on how well we keep the students already here with us and shepherd them through to graduation. It depends on our ability to find new revenue sources as we extend our missions of research and teaching. Therefore, as we work on multiple fronts to create a better future for KU, we will engage in the exercise to identify criteria and put together a process for using this policy should it come to the point that we need it, and I certainly hope that we won’t. We will seek the input of all of our key leadership groups, and work closely with faculty and staff leaders, as we design our response to the Board policy during the next 40 days.

Understanding the Challenge

The fiscal challenges we face are not unique to KU, and they are not unique to Kansas. They are faced by institutions of higher education across the country. Yet, KU has its own unique history and culture that affects how we experience and face these challenges. Since I began my tenure here, I’ve been doing my homework to ground myself in data and financial reports that clarify our situation. As a community, we have been preparing ourselves to meet the challenges we face beyond the pandemic. We have already begun the hard work to address our situation and begin building the foundation of the future KU as a strong research-intensive public university in a new era of higher education after-COVID-19 that is “an exceptional learning community that lifts each other and advances society.” As Provost, I believe wholeheartedly in the worthiness and value of this vision statement, and since I walked in the door, I have fully invested myself to be guided by this vision in every decision and action I make in guiding us to the future.

There is no one action or decision that is going to be the answer to our fiscal challenges. Our solution will involve many things – brought together over time with focus and purpose and resolve and teamwork – that will enable us to overcome the challenges we have. Things such as:

  • A voluntary separation program that was effective December 31, 2020, which will save us about $7 million dollars a year.
  • A new travel policy and recently launched travel system that may save us a few million dollars a year and reduce risks that sometimes cause us downstream losses.
  • Review of our academic portfolios by our academic units to create efficiencies and associated reduction in expenses by reducing course sections and improving course fill rates.
  • Reviewing our processes and monitoring systems for procurement, with plans to move to greater strategic sourcing of services, programs and processes and eliminate duplicative purchases, excessive payments, and downstream inefficiencies. This work alone has the potential to save the university millions each year.
  • Continuing to collect and analyze data to define customer needs for key administrative services, to streamline and create more efficient processes, and to engage in continuous quality improvement, which will lead to significant cost reductions and savings.
  • Working to increase the number of prospective student applications and admissions to grow our enrollments.
  • Continuing to ensure the students who come to KU persist and graduate. This focus area has the double benefit of advancing our mission and generating much-needed revenue for the university.
  • Advancing KU’s participation in the ACE Internationalization Lab to design a new strategy for our global efforts, with the expectation that these will lead to new opportunities to generate revenue through new targeted global partnerships for teaching, research and service activities throughout the world and here at home.
  • Continuing to design business models to encourage greater connections between the Lawrence and Edwards campuses that can help us to develop new programs and grow enrollments that contribute to the revenue side of the ledger.
  • Working to improve research administration so we can bring in every possible dollar of external funding and spend it wisely to advance knowledge and to provide critical solutions to the challenges confronting our country and our world.
  • Continuing to work with KU Endowment to provide critical investments the university needs to support our core mission and advance the institution.
  • Identifying the metrics behind our new strategic plan, so we are always guided by our vision, mission, values and core institutional priorities to ensure that every action we take advances us toward the future we aspire to create, and we monitoring our work to ensure that our actions lead to the outcomes we intend to produce.
  • And, unfortunately, it is likely that, in addition to all the other work we have before us, we will need to close some low-enrolled programs and programs that don’t align with the core mission of the university and consolidate some administrative services, all of which will likely result in the need to let some people go.

What is critical about all of these actions is they are based on our mission, the academic demand of students and society, and our pursuit of excellence. Over the coming weeks, and throughout the spring semester, I will discuss these initiatives and more through emails and videos. I will invite many of you to participate in these activities, and will schedule regular meetings to receive input and feedback from community members on all this work.

Strengthening KU

KU is the flagship university of the State of Kansas, and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. We value tenure and all for which it stands. Events this past week compelled me to pull my copy of the AAUP Red Book off my shelf to reread the Statement of Principles of Tenure (from the 1940 version with 1970 Interpretive Comments). In my reading, I was drawn to the second sentence of the statement, “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression.”

Our task now is to clearly articulate how our work as a university serves the common good, and how each individual at KU is supporting the work of the university. We are in an unprecedented moment in the history of higher education – with significant transformational forces at work and with serious financial challenges. As we right-size and right-fit the university to address our challenges and prepare for the future, we will protect and value excellence, we will be driven by our core institutional priorities, we will have the courage to make difficult decisions, we will work together to be effective and efficient, and we will be relentless in our efforts to achieve our vision and goals. Our decisions will be based on our mission, they will be based on demand for our programs, and they will be based on excellence.

I have several important asks to make of each of you as we work in stewardship of this university that sustains us all and that needs our help now. I ask this for today, for this semester and until KU is once again on solid ground:

  • Partner with us in this process – we can do this, and we will do this. It won’t be easy, but it is possible if we are solutions-oriented. We won’t look the same when we’re through, but we will demonstrate our value in addressing the challenges our State, our country and the world face today.
  • Help our students progress and complete their degrees in a timely manner by fostering a culture of care and student success inside and outside the classroom. Promoting student success can be as simple as reaching out to a student whose level of engagement or performance has shifted, taking the time to answer questions about campus life or resources, offering timely feedback, or following up with a student after referring them to a campus or community resource. Too often, we think about supporting our students only when they are in a time of need; it is equally important to celebrate their performance and accomplishments.
  • Help recruit new students by sharing your excitement for teaching and research and helping students achieve their best.
  • Consider collaborating with others in the university to share resources in order to meet your needs before spending additional university funds.
  • Strive to be excellent in scholarship. Be as unapologetically fruitful as you can in elevating the impact of your research, discovery and creative activities through publications and scholarly engagements. Apply for external grants that support your work whenever and wherever you can.

Most importantly, I hope and ask that you find ways to take care of yourselves during this difficult time. It’s OK to step away from work regularly, take deep breaths, find things you enjoy and celebrate all that is good. You are the heart and mind of the university, and I am well aware that our people are our greatest resource. You are why, ultimately, we will do everything we can to make sure KU overcomes this challenge, working together in stewardship of this institution that sustains us and our shared purpose of serving the common good.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor