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New UW president declares financial crisis; academic programs in danger

Jun 16, 2016 By Bob Moen, Associated Press

Under university policy, a formal financial crisis allows president Laurie Nichols to appoint a committee that will review all programs this summer.

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols said she will declare a financial crisis that will allow for the evaluation and possible elimination of academic and nonacademic programs at the state's only public four-year university.

The university has to cut more than $40 million from its budget over the next two years to compensate for reduced state aid because of a drop in tax revenue from the downturn in Wyoming's energy extraction industry.

Nichols said declaring a financial crisis allows her to appoint a committee that will review all programs at the university this summer.

"It kind of opens the door to allow you to really look at elimination of academic programs," she said.

But she stressed that the university will not do anything that will hurt enrollment or the quality of education students receive.

The UW Board of Trustees would have to approve any program elimination.

The trustees unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday supporting Nichols' plans to immediately save about $26 million, beginning July 1, and to review additional cuts in the future.

Nichols said the immediate savings will come from a number of actions, including eliminating 70 faculty and staff positions that are currently vacant, asking faculty to spend more time teaching, eliminating overtime and offering an incentive for early retirement.

It is hoped that at least 50 employees will accept early retirement.

Some positions will be reallocated to where they are needed most, she said.

"The overall goal is downsizing," Nichols said. "We are not going to be able to replace every position."

She is also considering a four-day furlough during the December break in classes, but Nichols said she wants to avoid that step if possible.

Nichols said the idea behind faculty doing more teaching is to save money by not hiring part-time faculty.

Robert Sprague, associate professor of legal studies in business and a member of the UW Faculty Senate, said most faculty now spend about 50 percent of their time in the classroom and 50 percent on research, which includes producing books, articles, inventions, artwork and finding new discoveries.

Increasing the teaching load will result in less research, Sprague said.

"If a majority of faculty who also perform research are going to have to teach an additional course load, we will have to lower either the quantity or the quality of the research that is generated by that faculty," he said.

Sprague also noted many departments are already short of faculty and some programs need part-time faculty to handle student demand.

The Legislature trimmed spending by about 1.5 percent during its budget session earlier this year. That resulted in about $3 million a year less for the university.

But the state's revenue picture has worsened since lawmakers left Cheyenne, and Gov. Matt Mead says the state will have to cut about an additional 8 percent from the state's $3 billion two-year budget. Mead has already told the UW trustees that the university will see its state support reduced by about another $35 million.

Mead is scheduled to meet with the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee next Tuesday to detail proposed cuts in other state agencies.

For the university, the cut in state funding is compounded by a need to find about $13 million over a two-year period to cover costs related to a new financial and reporting system, increased utility expenses and other needs that the Legislature said it could not fund. That means reallocating money it had planned for other things.

Wyoming derives most of its tax revenue from the extraction of coal, oil, natural gas and other minerals. However, low prices, growing wind and natural gas competition and new federal regulations have taken a toll on the industry.

Several major coal companies with mines in Wyoming have filed for bankruptcy and hundreds of mine workers have been laid off in recent weeks. Thousands of other jobs directly and indirectly linked to the energy industry also have been lost over the last year.

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2017-10-22

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