UNC system leaders said Friday that they were lobbying hard for authorization from state Legislature to give furloughs to university workers as one more tool to prevent or reduce layoffs.
The legislature, which faces an $800 million revenue shortfall, is working to reconcile different versions of the budget passed by the House and Senate. The House version has $175 million in cuts for the UNC system and the Senate version $54 million.
Under the House version of the budget, university leaders say they would have to slash 1,700 jobs, with about 1,000 of those filled. Many of those would be faculty positions, system President Erskine Bowles said, because after trimming 23 percent of the system's administrative costs last year, and losing $575 million from its budget in the past few years, there was almost nothing left to cut outside the classrooms.
Furloughs would save $8 million a day, Bowles said.
At that rate, seven days of furloughs could more than cover the Senate cuts.
Furloughs would only be used as a last resort to save jobs after other means of cutting had fallen short, system leaders said.
"I think with furloughing, we're looking for some wiggle room something to help us piece it together until things get better and we have some permanent plan in place," said UNC Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage. "We want to have every possible tool we can have to protect the quality of the system, and furloughing would help."
Bowles said he thought the Senate would back the necessary enabling legislation, and some House members would, too. It was crucial, he said, to preserve as many jobs as possible, particularly faculty positions, until the recession passes.
"I hope they will allow us to do it," he said. "It would be a shame to destroy the university, and the academic portion of the university for what should be, hopefully, a short term economic problem."
He said that he thought university employees also would support the idea as long as it was clear that the system leaders had take every other step they could to avoid firing people.
Bowles said he wasn't sure exactly how any furlough would be implemented. He said that he and the chancellors of the various universities would talk about that at their regular meeting at the end of the month.
It's obvious, he said, that furloughs cut into productivity, but one way to blunt that impact might be to schedule them on days where employees were less productive anyway, such as the last workday before major holidays.