University early retirement plan raised

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Southeast Missouri State University's president says he hopes the school will provide an early retirement plan to allow faculty to "to leave gracefully" rather than be fired as part of a cost-cutting academic restructuring that takes effect in 2005.

School president Dr. Ken Dobbins spoke to the Faculty Senate on Wednesday. He said the board of regents has made it clear that some academic degree programs must be eliminated or reduced to balance the budget.

In the face of state budget cuts, the university is short as much as $2.4 million to balance its operating budget, and state funding could be in even bigger jeopardy next year.

The regents, Dobbins said, won't balance the budget on the backs of students by raising tuition "another $17 a credit hour."

During the two-hour meeting, faculty questioned whether the university has done enough to cut nonacademic costs before turning its attention to academic areas.

Dobbins said the university will look at cost-cutting moves in nonacademic areas too, including athletics.

Geosciences professor Nicholas Tibbs, who chairs the Faculty Senate compensation committee, said the university could cut costs by offering a voluntary early retirement program to faculty members in colleges and departments throughout the campus.

Tibbs said there could be "considerable savings" from such a plan, and it could eliminate the need to cut some academic programs. Tibbs said his calculations show the university could save $30,000 to $40,000 a year per affected teaching position by replacing retired tenured faculty with part-time faculty or those on term contracts.

Some of the retirees could continue to teach two classes a semester and draw 33 percent of their previous salary if teaching positions were available, Tibbs said.

Tibbs said there are 93 faculty members who could be eligible for early retirement. Of those, he estimated that maybe a fourth would choose to retire if offered the chance.

Dobbins and provost Jane Stephens suggested even more faculty members might elect to retire if offered the opportunity.

But Dobbins and Stephens, the university's chief academic officer, said they want to craft an early retirement program that would be made available only to faculty in academic programs that will be restructured or eliminated.

That would be most cost-effective for the university because none of those retiring faculty would be replaced, Dobbins said.

Stephens said she favors giving a year's salary and five years of continued health benefits to faculty who don't take early retirement and who lose their jobs.

The Faculty Senate said it would consider three different compensation plans at its next meeting, Nov. 5. They include the broader voluntary retirement plan, a targeted voluntary retirement plan, and a severance pay plan.

School administrators have repeatedly said some tenured faculty may have to be fired in what the regents and administrators say is a financial emergency. Eight-seven percent of current Southeast faculty are tenured or are on track to be tenured.

Some members of Faculty Senate told Dobbins they don't believe the budget crisis warrants firing any tenured teachers.

Dobbins is expected to recommend program cuts to the board of regents Nov. 14.

335-6611, extension 123

Under review

These items will be discussed at a budget forum Oct. 30:

Restructuring training and development, continuing education and off-campus programs

Merging printing and duplicating with university relations

Restructuring vending services

Reducing the budget for athletics

Making KRCU radio and student health services more self-supported

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