Under a budget cut scenario announced last Friday (March 13), 31.75 employees will be laid off from Western Carolina University due to state budget cuts.
WCU is anticipating the state cutting the university’s appropriation by $7.64 million, or 8 percent, due to the national economic downturn.
State appropriations make up half of the university’s budget.
The university’s Board of Trustees met on Friday for its regular quarterly meeting and discussed the budget cuts.
Chancellor John Bardo said the university needs to come out of the budget crisis a more focused and stronger institution. The university also needs to maintain the quality of the student experience, he said.
Cutting employees is difficult, Bardo said.
“These are real people,” Bardo said. “They’re not just jobs.”
Many of his staff members are laying awake at night thinking about the people who are going to lose their jobs, Bardo said.
The chancellor said one of his goals was to not lay off any of the blue collar workers on campus. Those workers come from Swain, Macon, Jackson and Haywood counties and their entire families are associated with the institution, Bardo said.
Staff Senate Chair Jed Tate said an emergency assistance program to help laid off workers may be established. Tate said he thinks the administration did the best it could to make the cuts with as few layoffs as possible.
Tate added that those who will be laid off will be notified this week.
Overall, 92 jobs were eliminated campus-wide, but 53.75 of those were already vacant.
Another 6.5 positions currently funded by the state will be transferred to a category of employment supported by student fees or other sources of funding. The remaining positions are currently filled, and those employees will be laid off.
That number could change, however.
“This is a dynamic number that is changing constantly,” said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance. “Consequently, these numbers could go up or down as we finalize the budget reduction.”
The university employs 1,550.
The college of arts and sciences is taking the largest cuts with 14.10 faculty positions being eliminated, followed by the business school with 13 jobs being cut. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.
The education department will have eight jobs cut, fine and performing arts 4.6, health and human sciences seven and the Kimmel School of Engineering three. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.
Programs are also being eliminated and suspended, including the Institute for the Economy and the Future; Clinical Lab Sciences Program; Summer Ventures Program; Legislator’s School; and the Reading Center.
In response to questions of why construction is continuing on campus while jobs are being cut, Bardo said he can’t take money out of the construction budget for operations under state rules. The construction projects are one-time expenditures approved by the university system, while staff expenses are recurring.
The cuts at the university are “targeted” rather than across-the-board, Bardo said.
Administration and Finance is cutting 17.6 positions. Of those 15.1 are currently vacant and 2.5 will be transferred to other areas, said Wooten.
Bardo said the next step is to meet with deans this week to begin implementing the cuts.
While Western Carolina University is having to layoff employees and cut programs to deal with budget cuts, applications to WCU have surged.
WCU applications are up 103 percent over the same time last year. So far this year more than 12,000 applications have been received.
Most of those are freshmen applications. The university can only handle about 1,600 freshmen due to requirements that they must live on campus.
The poor economy makes enrollment difficult to predict, Bardo said. It could cause more students to attend Western because it is more affordable than other schools, Bardo said. But at the same time fewer students may be able to afford school.
Bardo said he has been in higher education since 1973 and can’t recall another year like this one in which it was so difficult to predict enrollment.
Currently there are about 9,050 students enrolled at the university.
Increased enrollment won’t offset the budget cut likely to come down from the state, Bardo said. It would take an additional 10,500 students to cover a 7 percent budget cut, he said.