Interesting discussion today at UNC Chapel Hill's Faculty Council meeting. Basically, a brainstorming session on how best a university should approach cutting budgets.
(As you may have read, the state's in a bit of a budget bind these days, and public universities have been asked to project budget cuts for the current year of up to 7 percent.)
So faculty members spent some time today tossing around ideas for how to deal with these cuts. They range from ideas that are either already in place or likely to be used, like freezing vacant positions, cutting programs, delaying capital projects and suspending faculty searches, to somewhat more radical ideas, like reducing enrollment, merging departments or, the one suggestion that drew hearty laughter, using money drawn from the athletics department for academic uses.
A summary of the ideas batted around the room Friday:
• Is an across-the-board freeze on vacant staff positions a good idea? Perhaps not. While easy to implement, some positions are simply too important not to have, some faculty argued.
"At the law school, we have just one registrar," said Laura Gasaway, a law professor. "If that person left, the whole place comes crashing down."
• So if you don't just freeze positions, perhaps you make strategic cuts. And if so, do you fill a position that's really needed if you must in turn lay someone off to do so?
That's a tough one, argued Steve Matson, a biology professor and dean of the graduate school. You may fill a position you really need but may pay the consequences in good will.
"You will probably have ticked off many people in that unit, and you'll pay costly in severance," he said.
• Several faculty members seemed to like the idea of furloughs. At least one public university system, in Maryland, is going that route. Here's how it might work: University employees would take, say, three days off over a six-month period or over a year, and their pay would be reduced by three days during that time period.
"It's an instant cash generator," Gasaway said. "It's hard on staff, but it isn't as hard as losing your job."
Some of the other ideas faculty members suggested to ease the budget crisis included converting 12-month contracts to nine months, increasing faculty teaching loads, decreasing work hours, decreasing library acquisitions, eliminating travel, eliminating faculty leaves, delaying computer replacements, and starting a new capital campaign.
As Joe Templeton, the faculty chairman, pointed out, that last idea is sorta, kinda, already underway.