By Bill Robinson
The committee seeking the next president of Eastern Kentucky University expects to announce a group of finalists this afternoon.
Craig Turner, the EKU regents chair who also heads the 12-member search panel, said it would be bringing a “really exciting” group of candidates “to town” for campus visits and interviews.
Asked if his choice of words hadn’t inadvertently revealed that no local residents or current members of the campus community would be among the finalists, Turner said it did not.
The announcement of finalists today won’t be the only big news coming from EKU this week. The regents will meet in a special called session at 10 a.m. tomorrow, mainly to consider recommendations for reducing university staff.
Among the proposals will be buyouts and placement assistance for staff who have been employed for at least five years. Retirement incentives for those with longer employment also will be presented, Turner said.
The regents have been given drafts of the recommendations in advance of the meeting, he said. Local government leaders and members of Madison County’s legislative delegation have been briefed on what will be proposed.
In late January, President Doug Whitlock charged a specially appointed task force with recommending ways the university could cut its expenses by 10 percent. About a week later, he announced that cuts of such magnitude could not be attained without reducing staff.
With 70 percent of the university’s budget taken up by pay and benefits, cutting staff would be unavoidable if expenses are to be cut by 10 percent, Turner said.
Although the task force is reviewing all campus operations and programs, the regents won’t be considering program evaluations on their limited Tuesday agenda, in part because the reviews are incomplete, he said. However, no program is exempt from review. But, this is much too early to predict how prominent or longstanding programs such as the Model Laboratory School may be affected by the review.
Potential staff reduction efforts will be acted on first to give affected personnel as much advance warning as possible, Turner said.
The move to reduce expenses and reallocate resources after reviewing programs is being done for the long-term as Eastern expects to end the fiscal year June 30 with its budget in balance, the regents chair said.
The purpose is to capitalize on EKU’s strengths, eliminate some weaknesses and generally make the university more efficient, Turner said. That will put it and the incoming president in a better position to prosper as a challenging future approaches, he said.
One thing that won’t happen is an across-the-board cutting of expenses, Turner said. Such indiscriminate action would weaken successful programs and penalize those that have been efficient. Some programs could very well receive increased investment after the review, he said.
“We can’t be all things to everyone,” Turner said, adding that Eastern should concentrate on things that it does best as well as those that are central to its mission.
The business model for higher education is changing, he said, and all must move to shore up their foundations because the waves that threaten to erode them have begun to break against them all.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6690.