Chancellor tells legislators KU needs more state funding

KU Statehouse Wire Service

TOPEKA— University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little asked a House committee Wednesday to consider restoring at least some of the $13.5 million cut from KU’s budget last year. At least one legislator said the state’s tight budget would be an obstacle to restoring funds.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Testifying before the House Committee on Education Budget, Gray-Little said the university needs more state funding to achieve its mission.

“There are ways in which the cuts will keep us from meeting the aspirations that we have,” Gray-Little said. “And they also do damage in other ways that I think would be costly to the university.”

The Kansas Legislature approved a two-year budget plan last year that reduced state funding for higher education by $33 million. It resulted in cuts amounting to $5.3 million at KU’s Lawrence and Edwards campuses and $8.2 million at KU Medical Center.

Gray-Little said the university’s plans for moving forward will require more resources, especially investment in faculty.

“We can ask people to work harder, and they do, but ultimately everything requires resources,” Gray-Little said. “We can’t bring the number of faculty up to the level that we wish without additional funds.”

According to Gray-Little, since 2011 the university has made major efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency as part of its Changing for Excellence project. Efforts include reorganizing the administrative staff to condense the amount of positions. Savings from these changes are being reinvested in teaching and research programs.

State Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, said the lack of state revenue leaves legislators with few options to restore funding for universities.

“The question the Legislature will have is, even if you want to fund it, can we continue to keep funding it if we don’t have the revenue stream,” Henry said.

Henry said that tuition increases are a major concern for legislators.

“You can see the pressures are coming from not only the budget, but it’s also coming from families at home saying it’s too expensive to go to school.”

In an effort to prevent tuition increases at the Lawrence and Edwards campuses, planned projects have been cancelled or postponed, such as undergraduate research funding and multicultural scholarships. According to Gray-Little, KU Medical Center tuition increased by 5 percent, which would have needed to increase by 12 percent to cover the State General Fund cuts. The cuts fell more heavily on KU Medical Center, which receives a larger portion of its revenue from state appropriations than tuition.

Restoration of funds and financial support from the Legislature is especially important to KU Medical Center. The university plans to construct a $75 million medical education building to replace its current facility, which Gray-Little has said is outdated. The Legislature hasn’t agreed to help cover the cost, though it has given KU permission to finance the project with bonds.

“Without a new medical education facility we won’t have an adequate place to train the physicians that we have, even if we don’t increase the number (of physicians).”