Amid ongoing economic uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Western Kentucky University will aim to cut $27 million from its fiscal year 2021 budget, which is projected to total $370 million.

Recommendations announced Friday include a hiring freeze and pay cuts to all employees making $50,000 or more a year.

The news was announced Friday in a faculty and staff email by WKU Provost Cheryl Stevens and Susan Howarth, the university’s executive vice president for strategy, operations and finance.

“The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the community landscape. While the full fiscal impact from this crisis is still solidifying for FY21, we now must prepare for an additional enrollment decline, along with a projected decline in state appropriations ... ,” Howarth and Stevens wrote in the email. “In order to address the serious financial realities we face in the months ahead, we need to make immediate and difficult decisions.”

To address the shortfall, WKU’s Budget Executive Committee has recommended several actions. These changes do not apply to the current fiscal year’s operating budget, which is relatively secure, but to the next fiscal year budget that would go into effect July 1.

The Budget Executive Committee’s recommendations include the following:

  • The hiring pause implemented earlier this year should continue. This pause should either defer or eliminate vacant faculty and staff positions. There should be limited exceptions.
  • Travel, other than that needed to recruit students, should be suspended. Extremely limited exceptions should be made.
  • Beginning July 1, tiered salary reductions should be implemented until June 30, 2021. Those tiers are:
  • Annual salary of $50,000 to $99,999, reduced by 2.5 percent.
  • Annual salary of $100,000 to $149,999, reduced by 5 percent.
  • Annual salary of over $150,000, reduced by 10 percent.

The BEC also recommends that deans and vice presidents should be assigned other budget reduction targets.

“These reduction targets should focus on but not be limited to procurement reductions, renegotiating major contracts, elimination of overtime/overload and one-time payments, and the strategic use of philanthropic gifts to offset expenses,” according to the email.

“We recognize that we are in an era of significant financial uncertainty. If the country’s or state’s economic climate deteriorates further, we experience substantial enrollment declines, or there’s a recurrence of COVID-19 in the upcoming fall or winter, the University may be forced to take additional budgetary actions,” Howarth and Stevens jointly wrote in the email Friday.

In a separate email addressed to the campus Wednesday, WKU President Timonthy Caboni telegraphed the need for changes. Caboni reiterated that the university’s current fiscal year budget has been largely unaffected by the fallout from the pandemic, aside from a 1 percent reduction to its state appropriation for the last two months of its fiscal year.

“We were well positioned to weather the COVID-19 pandemic in this fiscal year, including the ability to cover a 1 percent decrease in state appropriation for the final two months of the current fiscal year – a reduction announced just last Thursday,” he wrote. “However, this health crisis will affect significantly next year’s operating budget.”

Given that, Caboni said, it’s vital that university employees work to lock down enrollment and “re-recruit each student to return to campus this fall.”

“During the next several days and weeks, I need you to convey to our Hilltoppers the importance of continuing their higher education journey,” Caboni wrote in the email Wednesday.

Going forward, the university’s Board of Regents will review 2021 budget recommendations at its next meeting May 15 and vote on a budget during a special meeting in June.

In the meantime, four campus committees are developing plans to reopen aspects of university life this fall. They’re expected to submit their plans to the university’s COVID-19 Task Force later this month, which will use those plans to develop a more comprehensive plan, Caboni said.

“We remain committed to regaining as much normalcy as possible and providing the full WKU Experience to our students, while protecting the health of our community,” he wrote.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.