Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
February 2, 2010
Faced with dire financial situations, some institutions of higher learning are considering declaring a state of financial exigency, allowing them to change working conditions and compensation for tenured faculty.
The Las Vegas Sun reports that the Board of Regents will today consider declaring a financial emergency which will lead to pay reductions, furloughs and layoffs. The move is in response to anticipated state budget cuts of at least 20 percent, in addition to the reductions which have already taken place. This is the first time in nearly 40 years that the board has considered resorting to such a drastic step.
"There is a lack of funds to meet current or projected expenditures," explained Bart Patterson, vice chancellor of administrative and legal affairs for the Nevada System of Higher Education. He noted in the Sun that the chancellor is required to recommend to the regents that they declare financial exigency "after it's determined there are no other ways to reduce expenditures to meet the budgetary reduction."
Declaring financial exigency would allow campuses to more easily adjust contracts, reduce personnel, and bypass existing requirements for notifying employees and students of changes.
Other states are dealing with similarly dire financial situations. The Deseret News in Utah reports that higher education officials are bracing for a possible 5 percent state budget cut in addition to a recent 17 percent cut. William Sederburg, Utah's Commissioner of Higher Education, noted that if the cuts are recommended, "campuses really have no choice but to take on drastic measures."
Utah's nine institutions would be forced to eliminate nearly 4,000 course sections, which would affect 9,410 students and 619 faculty positions. Enrollment caps would be necessary as a result. And at the College of Eastern Utah, financial exigency would likely need to be declared, which would allow them to suspend rules and policies of tenure.
"This is not a threat, just a statement," said Sederburg in the Deseret News. "We can't accept taking on more students in addition to a 22 percent budget cuts and not see serious ramifications."
In a related story, the Hattiesburg American in Mississippi reports that professors are concerned about proposed changes to tenure policies which have surfaced as a result of the recession. The state College Board, for example, approved initial policy changes in December which would reduce how much warning time is required to fire tenured and tenure-track professors for financial reasons. And the state Legislature is considering a bill that would completely eliminate tenure.
"Tenure is at the core of our profession," protested Mark Klinedinst, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and a member of the Mississippi State Consortium for the Improvement of Education. "We have to do everything to protect it."
But Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds argued that the changes are necessary. "If the downturn is sharper than anticipated," he told the Hattiesburg American, "then this (tenure policy change) gives campuses the ability to adjust accordingly."