AUSTIN–Texas A&M University-Kingsville and its sister campuses in Corpus Christi, Laredo, San Antonio, Killeen and Texarkana are facing double-digit percentage cuts in state funding this legislative session, potentially causing faculty and staff layoffs, the wholesale erasure of academic programs, loss of research dollars and much more system-wide.
Senate Bill 1, the state’s 1,000-page General Appropriations Bill, was introduced on Jan. 17; it details spending plans in the State of Texas for all public agencies and higher education institutions for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
The legislation proposes cutting $26 million in funding from TAMUK, or 37 percent of the university’s current operating funds. On the same day the bill was introduced in the Texas Senate, TAMUK President Steven Tallant told a gathering of faculty that he anticipated some cuts this year–about 4 percent to 10 percent–and that he was already prepared for it. This was before he was made aware of how deep SB1’s proposals would cut.
A week later, after testifying before the Senate finance Committee, he announced a strict hiring freeze.
If adopted as proposed, SB1 would likely result in the loss of 63 full-time TAMUK faculty and staff positions, 14 graduate student assistantships and put $10 million of research funds at risk, Tallant told state senators on Wednesday.
He also told the Senate Finance Committee the cuts would result in a loss of more than 26,000 semester credit hour offerings.
“We understand and anticipated the formula funding cut. However, the complete dissolution of special items was unexpected and we can not absorb that level of loss,” Tallant said.
Tallant said the university’s Citrus Center, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute and King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management would be particularly heavy hit by the proposed cuts.
“I believe eliminating state funding to these programs would damage our reputation and the public trust we have developed over many years,” he told senators.
While 37 percent is a drastic reduction in state funding for TAMUK, other campuses are facing even more dire cuts.
SB1 proposes a 61.9 percent reduction in funding for Texas A&M University-Texarkana, for example. Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the fastest growing school in the system, faces a 56.6 percent cut in funding, amounting to about $25 million. Texas A&M University-Central Texas could see its state funding slashed by 47.9 percent. Texas A&M International University in Laredo could lose 40.2 percent, or about $20 million, of its current level of funding.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi faces cuts as well, amounting to 34.8 percent, or about $28 million.
A&M System Chancellor John Sharp testified Wednesday as well. He served as a state senator in the 1980s, including on the powerful finance committee.
He testified that SB1’s proposed cuts would dramatically impact the quality of education provided by the A&M System.
“I hate to say this, but I remember when I was on this committee. I used to listen to all these people talking about, ‘oh, the sky is falling.’
“The sky is really gonna fall if you pass this bill,” the chancellor told committee members, who chuckled.
Sharp joined more than 50 other high-ranking executives from universities all over the state to submit testimony on the impact of SB1.
Tallant said the bill would reduce TAMUK’s portion of state formula funding by $11 million and slash an additional $15 million in special item funding.
Tallant outlined eight specific programs that would be negatively impacted by SB1’s spending objectives, including the loss of $11 million in Institutional Enhancement funding, 83 percent of which pays faculty salaries.
“This equals a loss of 20 faculty, three advisers and more than 22,000 semester credit hours,” he testified.
Asked to provide a priority list of special item programs the school would require funding for in 2018 and 2019, Tallant told the committee his first priority was to keep in place Institutional Enhancement funding, followed by funds for the Citrus Center, Caesar Kleberg, the King Ranch Institute, Vet Tech, the university’s engineering program, South Texas Archives and finally the Conner Museum.
Sen. Jane Nelson (R–District 12), who serves as the committee chairperson, made clear throughout Wednesday’s appropriations hearing that the proposed budget cuts were not yet written in stone and that testimony was held to help the committee decide how to proceed.
“It’s a starting point,” she said.
After testifying, Tallant answered senators’ questions, including about news that jolted this campus last semester when students and faculty learned of a proposal to merge TAMUK with TAMUCC.
Sen. Kel Seliger (R-District 31) said he thought the idea was brilliant. He asked Tallant “how it’s going?”
Tallant called the merger a good idea but said the timing and process have derailed it.
“I will go on the record saying I think it is a wonderful idea for the State of Texas. However, it is my understanding that at this point in time it is dead on arrival,” he said.
Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-District 20) commented that the merger plans were hurt after a “press leak.” Interestingly, Hinojosa was directly quoted in the earliest news reports about the supposedly defunct merger plans.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-District 7) told the committee he supported the merger idea and looked forward to one great university instead of two–some day.
SEE RELATED VIDEO: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=42&clip_id=11575