Post Academic

Layoffs of Tenured Faculty Loom

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on March 2, 2010
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State schools are in big financial trouble, and students are irate about rising tuition and fees (Exhibit A: The Berkeley Flaming Dumpster Riot of 2010). To close the gap, more and more schools are considering laying off tenured faculty.

Now, the main reason many people go into academia in the first place is the possibility of tenure. They can speak their minds and do their research without fear of walking into the office one day and finding out they don’t have a job anymore. Academics have to wait a long time to make a living wage, so they get tenure as a reward. Even if they rarely make as much as they would in the civilian world, so to speak, at least they have a job for life, right? And students benefit because there will always be someone who can teach skills that are valuable but can’t be monetized.

Not if you’re at a state school. Inside Higher Ed lists several systems that are either laying off tenured faculty or considering it, including Florida State and the University System of Georgia.

Regardless of what you think of the tenure system, these schools are overlooking alternatives that the hamster office world has faced for a long time, and these options might work.

Buyouts: Some tenured faculty are on the verge of retirement, and they don’t teach much. Offer an early retirement package with decent benefits. They might take the money and run. This is a common move at newspapers and in media outlets, like AOL. If a school is in truly dire straits, then they can offer a buyout threat, which is to ask for volunteers to take the buyout and then do the layoffs if they don’t get volunteers. It’s not pretty, and there will be kicking and screaming, but it’s better than starting with layoffs and making cuts across the board.

Re-evaluate the Admin Track: Administrators are the ones who make the big bucks in academia. Suffolk University president David J. Sargent makes a ridiculous income, and it’s not clear why. Schools will say that they need to pay that much to draw top talent, but the banks have tried that argument, and it’s not holding water anymore. The first people to take the pay cut should be the administrators, not the faculty. If the administrators show that they are wiling to take pay cuts and buyouts, they will have a much easier time convincing faculty members to make sacrifices.

There’s no denying that some schools are at a crossroads. Without changes and (alas) compromises, some legislatures and administrators might shut down whole departments and even whole schools. People don’t have to be laid off, but everyone will have to cooperate to avoid that worst-case scenario.

Layoffs Without ‘Financial Exigency’ [Inside Higher Ed]

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