Tenured faculty — usually considered to be protected from layoffs — might be pushed out of universities to offset the severe budget cuts looming ahead.
Many UNC-system administrators are discussing offering tenured faculty members buyouts, or monetary incentives to retire early, because the process to fire them would be too long and complicated.
The system is expecting cuts of about 15 percent, which would translate to more than 2,000 positions being eliminated — some of which could be tenured faculty.
A necessary consideration
The UNC system has cut a total of $575 million in the last three years, 23 percent in expenses and nearly 900 administrative positions.
The cuts this year are expected to come from the academic side.
Entire departments could be cut at UNC-system schools to cope with the lack of state funding, forcing administrators to consider buyouts.
“You can fire someone or offer a buyout,” said John Davis, a member of the UNC-system Board of Governors, said. “We are not going to fire tenured faculty.”
“Until we know what the governor and legislature is going to do, we have no way of knowing what we are going to do,” Davis said. “The president, the Board of Governors and chancellors, none of them want this to happen, but it may become moot depending on what the cuts are.”
Bruce Carney, UNC-CH executive vice chancellor and provost, said UNC-CH is one of the schools considering offering optional retirement plans to tenured faculty.
“It is going to be hard to cut too deeply in non-instructional units,” Carney said. “Instructional units are more vulnerable than ever to budget cuts.”
Even if universities decide to use buyouts, administrators are unsure about how they would pay for them.
“We don’t have the budget to put the cash on the table ourselves,” Carney said.
James Deal, a member of the board, said the money would have to come from the state.
“We are going to have to have commitment from the General Assembly to fund the retirement programs,” he said.
The buyout plan is one of many short-term options being discussed, Deal said.
“It is one of the ideas that could have an immediate impact,” he said.
“Some of the options discussed could help, but they won’t have an immediate impact.”
Laura Luger, general counsel to the board, said if the buyout plan is considered, costs associated with it must be looked at.
“We have to consider the impact across our entire community, from tenured faculty to state personnel,” she said.
John Curtis, the director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors, said buyouts are already being offered to faculty at universities across the country.
“It is something that universities have tried on and off in the years,” he said.
There is a real academic concern when incentives to leave are offered to tenured faculty, Curtis said.
He said buyouts are quick remedies, but it takes a couple of years to get the money back.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Northern Arizona University are two schools that recently offered buyouts to tenured faculty.
Curtis said the buyouts during a period of budget struggles might become a problem because it would mean several tenured faculty leaving the University at the same time.
This leaves a gap in institutional knowledge and leadership, he said.
“The people that are leaving are leading faculty members and take an active role,” he said.
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