The University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) has announced a series of budget cuts that will affect its academic programs and faculty members. The cuts are part of a plan to address a projected $58 million shortfall in the university system.
According to a press release from UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen, the university will eliminate 14 degree programs and 33 positions in 14 departments. The cuts will save about $2.3 million annually and will be implemented by the 2024-25 academic year.
The degree programs that will be eliminated are:
- Bachelor of Arts in Geography
- Bachelor of Science in Geography
- Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management
- Bachelor of Science in Sports Management
- Bachelor of Science in Aviation Systems Management
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Economics
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in International Business
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Marketing
- Master of Arts in History
- Master of Science in Biology
- Master of Science in Chemistry
- Master of Science in Mathematics
- Master of Science in Physics
The positions that will be eliminated include 24.5 full-time faculty positions and 8.5 staff positions. Some of the affected faculty members will be offered early retirement incentives, while others will be reassigned to different departments or roles.
UNK faces financial challenges and enrollment decline
The budget cuts are a response to the financial challenges that UNK and the University of Nebraska system are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state funding reductions, and enrollment decline. UNK has seen a 9.5% drop in enrollment since 2016, resulting in a loss of tuition revenue.
Kristensen said that the cuts were necessary to maintain the quality and affordability of UNK’s education and to align its academic offerings with the needs and demands of the students and the workforce. He also said that the cuts were made after a thorough and transparent process that involved input from faculty, staff, students, and community stakeholders.
“We have made difficult but strategic decisions that will allow us to continue to serve our students and our region with excellence,” Kristensen said. “We are grateful for the dedication and professionalism of our faculty and staff, and we are committed to supporting them through this transition.”
UNK students and faculty protest the cuts
The budget cuts have sparked protests from some UNK students and faculty members who are concerned about the impact on their academic programs and careers. On October 3, 2023, a group of students organized a rally outside the Fine Arts Building to voice their opposition to the cuts and to show their support for the affected departments and faculty members.
The protesters held signs that read “Save the Humanities”, “UNK Needs Theatre”, “Don’t Cut Our Future”, and “We Are Not Numbers”. They also chanted slogans such as “Hey hey, ho ho, these budget cuts have got to go” and “What do we want? Education. When do we want it? Now.”
One of the protesters, Laura Rozema, a theatre major, said that she was angry and scared about the possibility of losing her major and her professors. She said that she wanted the cuts to be distributed more evenly across the campus, rather than focusing on the humanities and the arts.
“I felt that anger and emotion needed to be turned into some action. And I wanted there to be an opportunity for us to voice our concerns and to put that passion into power,” Rozema said.
Another protester, Darin Himmerich, the director of the UNK theatre program, said that he was saddened and frustrated by the cuts, which he said would affect the quality and diversity of UNK’s education. He said that he felt betrayed by the administration, which he said did not value the contributions of the humanities and the arts to the university and the community.
“The number one thing on their mission thing was we support people and faculty and staff and it’s like yea but you’re cutting 30 positions. I know that comes above but can we not cut the heart out of the university?” Himmerich said.
The protesters also participated in a forum with Kristensen and other UNK officials, where they asked questions and expressed their opinions about the budget cuts. The forum was livestreamed on the UNK website and social media platforms.
Kristensen said that he appreciated the feedback and the engagement from the students and faculty, and that he understood their emotions and concerns. He said that he hoped that the UNK community would come together and move forward despite the challenges and changes.
“We are still UNK. We are still Lopers. We are still proud of who we are and what we do,” Kristensen said.