Last month, after Western Kentucky University announced it was weighing more than $10 million in budget cuts over the coming fiscal year, faculty members again asked a familiar question: How much would WKU’s athletics unit be expected to cut?
Margaret Crowder, a geology instructor, posed the question to Provost Cheryl Stevens during the Faculty Senate’s final meeting of the semester last month.
During the meeting, while Stevens explained the roughly $3.4 million in cuts that would come from WKU’s academic colleges, Crowder asked why the university was facing a $10 million budget shortfall and allocating $16 million to its athletics unit in its budget model. She was joined by other faculty members venting their frustrations.
“What are our priorities in this institution?” Crowder asked at the time. “I just feel like that needs to be said out of this body at some point today.”
Since then, the university’s budget reduction target for fiscal year 2020, beginning July 1, has been revised down to $8,644,000. Specific reduction targets for WKU’s non-academic units, called auxiliary and support units, have also been revealed.
According to the revised budget reduction plan disclosed in Board of Regents meeting materials Friday, the university’s athletics unit is being asked to cut $365,915 over the next fiscal year.
WKU’s Potter College of Arts and Letters is being asked to meet the biggest reduction target among the university’s five academic colleges: $1,253,585; the Ogden College of Science and Engineering is next with a target reduction of $859,895.
In March, WKU’s Board of Regents authorized a $65,868 raise for Athletic Director Todd Stewart, bringing his base salary to $270,000, according to materials provided at the meeting. The Hilltopper Athletic Foundation has agreed to cover the cost of the increase for the duration of Stewart’s four-year contract.
This is only the latest round of cuts WKU has endured recently. In June 2018, WKU’s Board of Regents approved $27 million in spending cuts, along with a 4 percent tuition increase for students. About 150 positions, 72 of which were filled, were eliminated along with other cutbacks.
Under the university’s new budget model, athletics receives an allocation of $16,130,303.
In a statement to the Daily News, WKU President Timothy Caboni said: “The entire university is sharing the burden of reduction targets, and that includes Athletics. The reduction for Athletics has been approximately $1.3 million over the past two years, and almost $2 million in the last four years. Athletics has shared fully in the burden of reductions in the past two years and any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.”
Caboni also reiterated the university’s support for staying in Conference USA.
“We are steadfastly committed to competing successfully as a member of Conference USA. There is great pride on our campus, among our alumni and in the community in having a Division I athletics program that generates national exposure for the University and creates a total college environment at WKU that is crucial to us in recruiting and retaining students.”
In a recent interview with the Daily News, WKU Provost Cheryl Stevens also addressed faculty’s frustrations.
When asked about the fairness of the $16 million for athletics and the expectation that athletics won’t have to generate a profit under the budget model, Stevens responded: “I’m not going there. I really can’t talk about that. It is what it is. This institution, WKU, has made a commitment to athletics, and there are a lot of people who enjoy it. The community enjoys it, students enjoy it and it’s what we’re going to do and it’s not going to ever be taken off the table.”
In an interview earlier this month, 2018-2019 Faculty Senate Chair Kirk Atkinson said he understands faculty members who think academics should be the university’s top priority. While he agrees student-athletes should also be a priority, he stressed focusing on academics first.
He blamed the university’s situation on state spending cuts for higher education.
“Higher ed in general has been getting unfairly, in my opinion, cut across the board,” he said. “It’s the reality with state funding being what it is.”