Contrary to previous comments from Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni, WKU will in fact consider employee salary cuts to help achieve $27 million in spending reductions in its looming fiscal year budget.

The reversal followed feedback from campus constituencies who were critical of the way in which proposed tiered salary cuts were formulated and recommended by a campus budget development group.

Responding to a “great deal of feedback,” Caboni told WKU’s Board of Regents on May 15 that faculty and staff salary cuts would no longer be put forward as a vehicle to achieve roughly $2.4 million in spending reductions next fiscal year, which begins for the university on July 1.

“We decided that, given the size of the budget reduction and so many questions around that item, that we would take that $2.4 million, and instead of hitting that goal through salary reductions, we would move that to the decentralized reduction targets that we’ll have to hit,” Caboni said at the time. Instead, units would have to come up with their own strategies to make the cuts, he said.

However, that changed the following week, when faculty and staff groups endorsed a revised slate of salary cuts – one that proposed the university’s top earners shoulder a larger share of the belt-tightening.

Under the new plan, employees with salaries of $100,000 to $148,000, for example, would see an across-the-board cut of at least 4 percent, while those making more than $148,000 annually would take a 10 percent cut. Those paid $50,000 or less, contrary to the original plan, would see no pay cuts at all.

Faculty and staff stakeholders said the change was spurred by a desire to protect jobs on campus.

“WKU is navigating unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic,” WKU’s Staff Senate said in a statement to the Daily News shared by Staff Senate Chair Mike Loftis. “WKU Staff Senate, Faculty Senate and university leadership continue to collaborate to minimize the impact on WKU positions while protecting the salaries of individuals that are lower on salary scales. The collaborative effort has resulted in a revised tiered salary reduction plan that is more equitable between the salary tiers while allowing WKU employees to help protect positions with shared sacrifice. WKU Staff Senate is grateful for university leadership that has valued input from campus shared governance and the collaboration with (the) Faculty Senate.”

WKU professor Guy Jordan, who chairs the Faculty Senate’s Budget and Finance Committee, echoed that message in an interview with the Daily News about the change.

“We’re willing to tighten our belts.” Jordan said.

He also framed the move as a bid to avert staffing cuts. Multiple rounds of spending reductions have left administrators with limited options, he said. “Deans have even fewer tools to manage those reductions,” he said.

During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Caboni elaborated on the reversal.

“This is a terrific example of how shared governance works,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about how the proposed salary cuts evolved.

Staff stakeholders in particular opposed the recommendation, he said.

“We regathered on the Monday afterward with our shared governance organizations to talk about what the opposition was from the perspective of staff and how might we alter that plan in such a way that made it something both the Faculty Senate could support, that the Staff Senate could support and would accomplish what we wanted,” Caboni said.

That goal, he said, “was us engaging as a community in shared sacrifice, so that individuals who might have lost their jobs otherwise would be able to retain their employment.”

In coming weeks, WKU employees will be able to enter their salary into a website under development by the university that will indicate how their pay might be affected, a campus memo dated May 22 said.

WKU’s Board of Regents is expected to vote on the recommendation at its special budget approval meeting June 26.

UPDATE: WKU's Chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued the following statement to the Daily News on Tuesday: 

"The COVID-19 crisis has tested our WKU family as never before. In response, WKU faculty and staff have met the challenge by putting in countless hours of extra work to maintain the academic operations of our campus. For the fall semester, faculty are ready to teach courses and transform them if need be to maximize student success and ensure student safety.

Faculty are also prepared to deal with the fiscal ramifications of this crisis. The Kentucky Legislature may make significant cuts to higher education in the coming session. These cuts would be in addition to the over $20,000,000 in annual funding removed from our operating budget by the Legislature over the past decade.

In response to the current situation, the WKU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors:

  • endorses the Budget Executive Committee’s recommendation of a one-year, tiered salary reduction plan that spares cuts for those employees making below $50,000. We are in solidarity with WKU Faculty and Staff Senates, who have been important voices in this matter. We support this action to preserve academic programs and the jobs of faculty and staff members whose work is vital to ensure student success at WKU.
  • requests that our administration expand the purview of additional options used to eliminate or offset divisional and unit reductions. Now is not the time for job losses. This is an 'all hands on deck' situation, and accomplishing the tasks that lie before us will require our full complement of personnel.

It is highly unusual for an organization such as ours to endorse a temporary pay cut, especially during a time when we are all being asked to do more, work harder, and take on unprecedented challenges. But as members of the faculty, we are committed to being there for our students and for a campus community we all call home. We support this vision of a true shared sacrifice to support and maintain our WKU family through these uncertain times."

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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