UW braces for $35 million in cuts

CASPER — The University of Wyoming is preparing to absorb $35 million in cuts in the coming years, reductions that are expected to hit every public agency here as state revenues continue to plummet. 

Gov. Mark Gordon instructed agencies and the university to prepare for cuts, as the novel coronavirus and downturns in the coal and oil industries have taken huge bites out of the state’s economy. The university is preparing for a 10 percent cut in each of the next two years, which amounts to $17.5 million annually. The cuts come four years after the last economic bust and the nearly $42 million in reductions that UW had to swallow as a result of that downturn. 

“A reduction of this magnitude, coming after the $42 million reduction absorbed by the university in the 2016-18 biennium, is bound to have a very serious impact on this institution,” UW’s incoming, newly hired president Ed Seidel said in a press release announcing the looming reductions. “We are working hard to develop a process that will prioritize the key components necessary for UW to continue fulfilling its land-grant education, research and service mission at the highest level possible.” 

Earlier this month, Gordon announced looming, across-the-board budget cuts of 20 percent, the first step in overcoming a projected $1.5 billion drop in revenue expected to come over the next two years. 

Per the university, a group of students, administrators, faculty and staff members will form a working group to develop strategies to dole out the cuts. Seidel said in a statement that the school will “consult widely with university stakeholders ... to make sure these reductions are as strategic as possible” while minimizing impact. 

The group will begin working immediately, with recommendations to come in the next few months. 

When the university and its then-president Laurie Nichols were handed the $42 million in cuts last decade, officials instituted several strategies to absorb them. They eliminated hundreds of vacant positions, laid off 37 employees and rolled out two early-retirement incentive programs. Several programs were eliminated, though officials said that was a decision driven mostly by those programs’ poor enrollment. 

UW is also facing a reopening plan to bring students and staff back to campus in the fall, an effort that will cost $25 million in the first few months alone. That money will likely come from federal stimulus money that’s been set aside to buoy educational institutions who faced hardships related to the coronavirus. 

Several million dollars are available for the school to use, on top of the money that Gordon will have to approve to put toward the reopening plan. But there are strings attached to what exactly that stimulus money can be used for. While spending the funding on reopening seems well within bounds, it’s unclear if using it to stave off budget cuts is allowed, and if Gordon — who holds the purse strings on the funding — would approve it. 

UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said in an email Friday that the university was “exploring all opportunities” regarding the federal money.