Severance packages offer U of L potential solutions
By Rae Hodge–
After dealing with 13 budget cuts in the last 12 years, the University of Louisville is now looking to save more money by offering buyouts to staff and faculty.
On Feb. 25 the university sent a letter to employees. It said that the school would offer a severance package to those who had been there seven years or more, or whose age and years of service add up to 75 years. The letter requested responses from faculty and staff by mid March.
“Right now we’re in the ‘feelers’ stage to see how many folks might be interested. We’re in the ‘Are you interested?’ phase,” said U of L spokesman Mark Hebert. “Once we see how many people send us notice saying ‘I’m interested’, that’s when we’ll say “O.K. Are these enough people to make the program worthwhile. And if we only get a few, then we’ll say ‘forget it.’”
Under the buyout program, employees who volunteer to leave would receive the following benefits: One year of salary for faculty member and six months of salary for administrators and staff members; faculty members would be allowed to teach part time; those under 65 would receive a small continual healthcare subsidy; and volunteers would receive pay for vacation and sick leave.
At the University of Louisville, which has 6,200 employees, one in five would be eligible for the buyout. Hebert says that the buyouts could save the school $2.5 million dollars, depending on who takes the offer.
“The 2.5 million estimate came from the budget models for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1. That’s the number from that estimate, but it depends on who leaves. If the majority are high paid faculty members we could have that number or higher,” said Hebert, “If the majority are staff, then we’re not going to have that number.”
“It’s been tried at other schools. The people that are helping the consultant of 21st -Century Initiative have seen it employed elsewhere successfully, but the success at U of L will depend on the number of people that take the option,” said Former Faculty Senate Chair Robert Staat.
Staat said that vacant positions would likely be filled with younger assistant professors. “We’re not talking TA’s (teaching assistant) or GA’s here. We’re talking faculty for faculty,” said Staat. “Any faculty person that starts in academics that will start as instructor or assistant professor. Assistant professors start on the tenure track. After six years, if you preform adequately and successfully, you will be approved for tenure and start as associate prof. Associate professors start at a minimum of five years. Some go 10 to 15 at that level before getting full professorships, which is the last promotion a professor will ever get and entails significant funding, publication and national recognition.”
Staat went on to say that “The majority of professors that the typical undergraduate student encounters are at assistant or associate prof level. Some full professors teach undergraduates but they are often into graduate students, and that sort of thing.”
“In the program there is a provision for a staggered separation that will allow departments flexibility so they aren’t short-staffed at any point. They can stagger the people leaving via this voluntary buyout so the coursework is still covered by quality people,” said Staat. “But the bottom line is that a 40-year-old faculty member isn’t going to earn the same as a 70-year-old.
Current Faculty Senate Chair Joseph Steffan did not return a call for comment.
Student reaction varied on the topic of faculty changes.
Julie Heinz and her brother Logan Heinz are students who work in Ekstrom Library. “Losing core professors could be a consequence, said Julie, a sophomore biology major, “but I’m not sure how the whole system works.”
Logan is a middle to secondary education major in his junior year, who said he hoped that the negative wouldn’t outweigh the positive effects of the buyout. “When you lose experience, you might need more balance. Also, it seems like a small enough incentive that not so many people would do it. Still, it might be good to get some fresh blood and younger people with a more recent education.”
Jarren Beasley, a junior math major, works as an office assistant in the Department of Communications, and echoed a campus-wide worry about tuition. “I feel like our tuition could also go up if they don’t leave. People are retiring more and more each year, so the money allocated to these professors who are collecting each year is going to go up.”
Faculty have until Mar. 15 to respond to the offer, but will be given an additional deadline later to make a final decision if U of L receives a sufficient number of responses.
Photo: Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal