Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TN Board of Regents schools have 524 accept buyouts

Schools are cutting costs By Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • February 17, 2010 Familiar faces are vanishing from universities across Tennessee as longtime professors, administrators and office staff voluntarily leave their posts in the face of looming budget cuts. In all, 524 people have left or will soon be leaving at schools in the Tennessee Board of Regents system in a wave of voluntary buyouts the schools hope will save them millions of dollars in the coming year. For the people involved, it's the end of a career. For the schools, it's the loss of decades of experience and institutional memory. And for the students, it will likely mean larger classes and fewer choices in years to come. "Certainly, I'm going to miss MTSU, but I'm also looking forward to retirement," said advertising professor Edward Applegate, one of 38 professors who accepted the buyout offer and will leave at the end of this semester. Applegate is planning books to write in his free time. "I believe there is life after doing something for 37 years." He will be joined by an exodus of longtime university fixtures, including library dean Don Craig; Randy O'Brien, broadcaster and news director at WMOT, the campus jazz radio station; Tech Wubneh, director of MTSU's international studies program; and octogenarian education professor Bob Womack. The university had hoped to see 45 faculty, 36 administrators and 34 clerical staff take buyouts — a move that would have cut an estimated $18.2 million from the budget. Instead, the bulk came from lower-paid clerical staffers. The university has not yet decided whether it will need to resort to layoffs. Middle Tennessee State University was facing a $19.3 million budget cut from the state when it began drawing up its buyout plan last year. The governor's new budget has them bracing for an additional $5.9 million cut. "The buyouts are just one piece," MTSU Senior Vice President John W. Cothern said. "It's part of a process. And it's a big process." 9 TSU faculty to leave At Tennessee State University, only nine professors accepted the buyout from a target goal of 33. In all, TSU accepted 47 voluntary buyouts of its goal of 100. The staffers left in August, including the university's director of nursing education and director of admissions. Bradley White, assistant vice president for business and finance, said TSU has not yet discussed the possibility of layoffs and is still debating other cutbacks — including eliminating so-called "low-producing" areas of study that fail to attract much student interest. "Hopefully, we will have done enough before the stimulus money runs out" that layoffs won't be necessary, he said. The universities have a year's breathing room, thanks to the federal stimulus that will flow to Tennessee higher education for one more year, and then the state budget cuts will be reinstated. Between now and then, MTSU and other universities in the system face a lot of painful choices — whether to cut more faculty, whether to increase class size, whether to eliminate less popular classes and majors — or all of the above. "The cumulative effect of all this reduction in staffing is probably going to result in larger class sections," said Dale Sims, vice chancellor for business and finance at the Tennessee Board of Regents, who is monitoring the ongoing cuts at MTSU, Tennessee State University and the other schools in the regents system. The governor's latest budget calls for a 6 percent cut in overall higher education spending — possibly as high as 9 percent. APSU relies on growth Not every school is trying to offset the cuts with staff reductions. Fast-growing Austin Peay State University, Sims said, is relying on its increasing student population — and the tuition revenue that comes with all of those extra students — to make job cuts unnecessary. The school also is spending its stimulus grants on energy-efficiency projects around campus designed to reduce maintenance expenses in the future. But, Sims said, "At the end of the day, 75 percent of what (universities) spend money on is people…You can't really get away from that."

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