UW trustees hear budget cutting options

Bob Moen, Associated Press
December 13, 2011

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) -- The University of Wyoming likely would have to lay off some workers under even the least severe of the three possible budget-cutting scenarios the college's Board of Trustees heard Tuesday.

Still, UW President Tom Buchanan said the state's only four-year public university is much better off financially than colleges in many other states.

"For the most part, what we're seeing here is a small part of what other states are dealing with in a much larger and more significant way," Buchanan said.

Wyoming has fared better than most states during the recession and struggling economy, but state officials say projected revenues may not be able to keep up with increasing expenses in the long term. The Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee has asked all agencies to submit plans to reduce their state-funded budgets by 2-, 5- and 8 percent.

A 2-percent cut would reduce state general fund appropriations to UW by $3.7 million a year starting in July 2012. A 5-percent cut would mean a $9.2 million annual reduction, and an 8-percent cut would total $14.7 million per year.

The state Legislature meets next February to work out a new two-year spending plan.

Buchanan's report on Tuesday identified possible general cuts under each scenario, although he said the talk so far in Cheyenne involves the lower end of the proposed reductions. The trustees took no action on the report.

Even under a 2-percent cut, the university would likely have to lay off some administrative and non-faculty workers, reduce UW-funded scholarship money and cut back on certain targeted expenses such as library materials and dental and mental health nursing programs.

Faculty positions and some courses likely would be eliminated under the 5-percent reduction, along with additional non-faculty members in athletic programs and student services. Most cuts in faculty positions probably could be handled through attrition, since the university sees about $3 million in faculty salary freed up each year from normal turnover, according to UW Provost Myron Allen.

However, Allen said certain programs and services that are more necessary to the operation and central purpose of the university can't lose staff for any reason, meaning other less important areas may have to see people laid off.

"I don't think it's possible to get by with workforce attrition alone," he said.

Allen declined to identify specific faculty positions, programs or courses that might be eliminated because doing so would be "very destructive" and hurt the university's ability to recruit faculty in the future.

Buchanan said cutting faculty and staff salaries and benefits was not considered at this point in the process because past experience has shown that those types of cuts can take a long time to make up and set back a university severely in retaining and attracting quality personnel.

UW is still working to recover from salary and benefit cuts that occurred in the 1980s, he said.

Buchanan said the legislative Joint Appropriations Committee will review the university's budget in detail on Jan. 18 in Cheyenne.