The University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Faculty and students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney are pushing back against millions in proposed budget cuts that could lead to fewer degrees and faculty positions.
The University of Nebraska system is facing an approximate $58 million shortfall over the next two years across its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney. UNK is estimating a $4.3 million shortfall this fiscal year.
Will Avilés, a professor of political science at UNK and president of the UNK Education Association, said administrators have proposed cutting approximately 30 faculty positions from 14 departments.
The UNK departments of Geography, Philosophy and Theater are proposed to be eliminated, Avilés said, as are the following degrees:
- Business administrative comprehensive with an emphasis in business intelligence (BS).
- Geography 7-12th grade teaching endorsement.
- Geography and GIScience (BS).
- Geography (BS/BA).
- Journalism (BS/BA).
- Modern languages with French or German emphasis (BA).
- Montessori early childhood eduction minor.
- Music comprehensive in business emphasis (BM).
- Music performance comprehensive in instrumental emphasis (BM).
- Musical theater comprehensive (BM).
- Recreation management (BS).
- Sports communication (BS/BA).
- Theater (BA).
“From the union’s perspective, we just want more public awareness and we hope awareness amongst regents that what they’re asking UNK to do is going to eliminate entire programs that have been essentially the heart of humanities as well as other parts — geography, philosophy,” Avilés told the Nebraska Examiner.
“I don’t think they appreciate or understand how harmful these cuts are going to be,” he added.
On Monday, students protested the proposed budget cuts, which have been sent to a Faculty Advisory Committee for further review. The committee’s role is an advisory one.
Final cuts are due to NU President Ted Carter on Dec. 1. Carter, who joined NU in 2020, will leave the system at year’s end to lead Ohio State University.
UNK’s role in NU system
As of today, UNK is the only NU campus calling for faculty or staff terminations, though the processes in Omaha and Lincoln are ongoing.
In June, Carter announced a “Five-Point Plan” meant to bring the university system “back on offense” while facing budget cuts, decreased enrollment and a stagnant increase in state aid. Carter also called for a more proactive process in reviewing NU programs, including programs offered by multiple campuses to find opportunities for collaboration.
Avilés said the decision to potentially remove some programs in central Nebraska suggests the campus is doing a “disservice” to students in that region who choose UNK for various reasons.
“I think we’re going to lose a lot of those students [from central and western Nebraska],” Avilés said. “Some of the students are not going to then just go to Lincoln or Omaha. They’re going to look elsewhere.”
‘No choice’ but to look at academics
Todd Gottula, UNK spokesperson, said the campus has cut $6.2 million in 53 permanent position cuts on the staff side and tried to do everything not to reduce academics.
“We did that,” Gottula said Tuesday. “But now we’ve made so many cuts over the years to staff lines that there’s no choice but to take a look at academics.”
Gottula said that even though some degrees may end, it does not mean programs will too. For example, he said, the journalism degree may end, but the communication department, some classes and the UNK newspaper or campus radio and TV station could remain.
One notable exception is the theater department, Gottula noted, which has existed for decades.
“We’re doing everything we can to lessen the impact on students and academics,” Gottula said.
Request for regents to reconsider
Avilés called on members of the UNK community to contact Carter, regents and state senators and ask them to oppose the proposed cuts.
“The Board of Regents needs to reflect on how it has been using our resources and develop a new plan that does not require applying such pain on the human beings that are central to the mission of UNK while simultaneously undermining the education of the students we serve,” Avilés said in a news release.
The Board of Regents will meet Thursday at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
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