University employees wait for budget axe to fall

Trimming higher education budgets leads to faculty and staff cuts across the Big Ten.
June 23, 2009

Editor's Note: A quote in this article was incorrectly attributed to Ryan Mathre, a spokesman for Carlson School of Management, but was actually said by Johnny Thompson, Director of Strategic Communications at Carlson. The story has since been edited accordingly.

As the United States’ unemployment rate nears the double digits, faculty, staff and students await the verdict on the loss of more than 1,200 jobs at the University of Minnesota.
In response to a 7 percent decrease in state funding and $95 million in internal cuts, University President Bob Bruininks proposed cutting 1,240 jobs or about 5 percent of the University’s workforce in his 2010 budget proposal. The Board of Regents will vote on Bruininks proposal on Wednesday.
In addition to about 370 layoffs or “non-renewals,” more than 200 faculty positions will be left open and 280 staff and 160 student positions will be eliminated.
The University also offered retirement incentives to employees, which will leave about 200 positions open.

“Lost opportunities”

At the Medical School 29 people took the retirement incentive, contributing to the Medical School’s total of 126 positions left unfilled, 42 of which are faculty positions.
Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Frank Cerra said cuts are decided by the department based on empty positions, and layoffs will be made only where possible. There were 19 layoffs at the Medical School.
The way cuts are being decided “is not a strategic way to do business,” Cerra said.
With more work being done by fewer people at the already short-handed Medical School, “there will be real pain here,” Cerra, said.
Each faculty member brings in $400,000 in research grants, and there will be big losses in revenue generating potential, he said.
School of Dentistry Dean Patrick Lloyd said the dental program shares faculty with the Medical School.
“I am quite confident that the modifications they are making in staff and faculty appointments will have no impact on our program,” he said.
Lloyd said no layoffs have been announced at the School of Dentistry , but a number of staff and faculty have taken advantage of the retirement incentive option.
The Institute of Technology will also see cuts to its program through the absence of almost 25 faculty members that the school was planning to replace this year. After the University imposed a hiring freeze in January, IT decided to hold off on replacing the faculty, a task that will be suspended indefinitely.
“This essentially just means lost opportunities,” Institute of Technology Dean Steve Crouch said . “It erases all the gains we’ve made in the past ten years by expanding the faculty.”
Cuts to faculty in IT, much like the Medical School, translates to cuts for research and graduate students, Crouch said, as each faculty member brings in about $250,000 in supporting funds.
“If you do the math, that means we are not collecting about $5 million in sponsored research,” he said, adding that the loss of those funds could mean the loss of more than 100 graduate students in IT who are directly supported by the faculty garnered research funds.
At Carlson School of Management positions have been left vacant, but no layoffs have been made, said Johnny Thompson, the director of strategic communications for Carlson.
He attributes part of the lack of cuts to the increase in graduate students. Carlson graduate registrations have spiked in the last two years, up by almost 300 as of last September, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
University Libraries will also see reductions.
Library Communications Director Marlo Welshons said the large number of job vacancies will allow them to be flexible in meeting their targeted reduction, but the libraries will still see 18 staff positions cut and diminished student support. The number of student positions cut will be equivalent to the work of four full time employees.
While 160 student jobs will be cut, President Bruininks said the “last dollar” the University will cut will be in supporting students.
However, members of the AFSCME 3800 Union said that is exactly what he is doing by cutting clerical positions.
“Eliminating our positions will make it that much harder for students to focus on their academic work, because they’re going to be dealing with not getting answers to questions, not knowing who to contact,” said Cherrene Horazuk, chief steward of AFSCME Local 3800 .
She listed the Institute of Technology, Extension news service , School of Mathematics and College of Design among the departments cutting clerical staff.

Voluntary pay cuts

While cuts are being made across the board at the University, faculty and staff at the College of Design have taken their own actions of self preservation, which includes a 10 percent voluntary salary cut from five members of the school’s leadership team — including Dean Tom Fisher — to prevent widespread layoffs.
Marilyn Delong , associate dean at the College of Design, said about 30 staff and faculty at the school total are taking reductions, saving the University an estimated $115,000. Their reduction would equal about 26 days without pay for the five leadership positions.
Many are calling on Bruininks and other top administrators at the University to do the same — take a pay cut of up to 10 percent.
Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME 3800, said University central administration should be required to take a 10 percent pay reduction, a cut that she estimates could save the University more than $7 million.
But Bruininks said “the University is not strengthened by weakening its competitive positions.”
“The University’s top administrators are not overpaid by any comparison I have seen, and many find ways to give back to the University,” he said.

Cuts across the Big Ten

The University of Minnesota is not the only Big Ten School under the pressure of slashed state budgets. Michigan State University and the University of Iowa are looking to layoffs to save depleting funds as well.
Michigan State University, who will receive about $9 million less than anticipated in state funds, is calling for a 4 percent cut budget cut in 2009-10 and 6 percent in 2010-11, most of which will be reduced through position reductions. The majority of these cuts, approximately 87 percent, will be in personnel costs impacting an estimated 590 positions. While most will be cut through vacancies or attrition, 19 percent, or about 120 jobs will be cut, according to MSU’s Web site.
The University of Iowa announced a possible $11 million layoff plan for the next budget year, which would start July 1. Tom Moore, interim University of Iowa spokesperson said that in a worst case scenario the University will see 130 cuts to filled positions across the University this fall.
Additionally, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will lay off 130 people and leave 70 positions unfilled at in an effort to cut $45 million from the hospital’s budget, Moore said.
Bruininks’ budget and the job losses therein, will ultimately be subject to Board of Regents approval on Wednesday.

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