Deficit might lead to faculty layoffs

Chemistry professor Jeffrey Bodwin poses a question Thursday at the faculty union meeting with MSUM administrators.

Chemistry professor Jeffrey Bodwin poses a question Thursday at the faculty union meeting with MSUM administrators.

MSUM officials announced a plan Thursday to offer early retirement incentives in order to avoid faculty layoffs.

After moving to what administrators call a “student success model,” MSUM has admitted far fewer underprepared students in the past few years, which has led to steadily declining enrollment – 3.5 percent this year – while faculty numbers have remained stable. Along with more expensive than expected union contracts and inflation, the shrinking student body is contributing to this year’s estimated $2.2 million deficit out of a $69.3 million budget.

“This is right-sizing,” Szymanski said at the monthly meeting with the faculty union Thursday. “Our hope is to work through a voluntary reduction process and to do it strategically.”

For the following fiscal year, 2015, officials project a $4.9 million deficit.

“We’re going to focus on ’15 and try to get ahead of the game on ’15,” said vice president for finance and administration Jan Mahoney.

Although she expressed optimism a few weeks ago that MSUM enrollment will grow by 2 percent next year, Szymanski said Thursday the university must budget for another 3 percent enrollment drop next year, just in case.

“The demographics are a little funky,” she said.

Before the early separation incentive discussion, Faculty Association President Ted Gracyk said, “I want to be clear to everybody in the room this will be a long process over multiple (meetings with administration).”

Here’s the timeline, according to the “Deficit Reduction Plan Handout,” distributed to faculty union members Thursday:

• Oct. 18: Early separation incentive notices will be sent to faculty and staff. Those over 55 with at least five years experience qualify for this type of incentive. Only a limited number will be offered, but at least one for each department. If more people are interested in the offers than offers available in the department, the recipient will be determined by game of chance (a coin flip, for example).

• Nov. 12: Administrators and faculty will complete the process of identifying potential program reductions, closures or consolidations.

• Nov. 14: Mahoney will calculate the impact of the early separation incentives and identify the remaining deficit. The president and administrators will decide where further reduction will be made and, if necessary, choose the programs where layoffs will be considered.

•  Dec. 5: Faculty Association again meets with administrators. If layoffs are deemed necessary, notices would be issued by early January. Before terminating any probationary or tenured faculty, the administration is obligated to target fixed term and adjunct faculty.

There are two reasons, Szymanski said, for trying to finish this process by January: It would allow faculty who won’t be returning to have three semesters to find new jobs, and it would prevent negative media buzz from spilling into the spring when many high school seniors choose colleges.

“We don’t want to create additional negative impact on enrollment,” she said.

The policy that allows for this special type of early separation incentive expires next June.

“This won’t be a tool that can be used in the future,” Szymanski said. “We thought we would take one last run at it.”

Administrators stressed that layoffs are a last resort. They’ve already implemented a hiring pause for most campus positions.

Throughout the meeting, Gracyk tried to make sure his members understood the situation.

“At this point, the president isn’t saying there will be layoffs,” Gracyk said.

Rather, he said, faculty will know by mid-November whether administrators think they are necessary. At that point, “a fairly complicated” process begins, during which union leaders look at the evidence to see if the administration has sufficiently proven a financial need for the so-called “retrenchment,” Gracyk said.

The goal, leaders from both sides said, is to finish this process before winter break.

Although MSUM leaders met with other campus unions in separate meetings Thursday, discussion about potential layoffs was limited, said university spokesman David Wahlberg.

The number of those employees is less linked to number of students, whereas “declining enrollment naturally leads to a decrease in faculty members,” he said.

“It really has to start at the faculty level. The conversation as it relates to other bargaining units is limited.”

BY BRYCE HAUGEN
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