When it comes to budget cuts to higher education, it’s the ones that are unseen that may hurt the most.
As colleges and universities received their allotment of state funding for the current fiscal year this week, LSU system schools, like LSU-Shreveport, were instructed to find a way to cut 23 percent out of the 2011-12 fiscal budget as federal stimulus money ends.
But the more shocking news came when system President John Lombardi, visited LSUS recently.
“LSU is likely to declare exigency,” said Paul Sisson, LSUS provost.
Exigency is similar to bankruptcy in that the schools could restructure in a way that would help it survive economically. Certain rules are suspended and among them is the academic tradition of tenure. Tenure ensures academic freedom and offers some financial stability for professors. For professors, tenure is not only a goal but a reward for years of dedication to research and teaching. Not every professor earns tenure.
“It’s not the last thing you strive for but one of the big things you strive for,” he said. “You are recognized by your peers that you’re a good teacher, a good scholar and a good performer. That you can contribute to the working knowledge of the world.”
If the system files exigency on behalf of its schools, a tenured professor could be on the same financial chopping block as an adjunct professor. The security they once enjoyed would be diminished.
“Tenure matters (still) but it doesn’t give you the same level of job security,” he said.
In the past two years, LSUS has eliminated vacant positions, scaled back from four colleges to two, and has offered staff and faculty early retirement bonuses. Faculty and staff have taken on increased workloads. But with another cut looming on the horizon, it’s time to go deeper.
“Primary focus has been to protect students and protect degree programs,” he said. “As the crisis continues, it becomes less and less possible to protect the student. Everyone feels it; the community will feel it in any services we provide.”
While the suspension of tenure protection could help the bottom line, it could hurt morale. Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said the unusual circumstances can make faculty uneasy.
Anne D. Neal, president of American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said despite the gloom and doom, there is a silver lining.
“It really allows institutions to focus on mission and eliminate fat that has accumulated during the feast years,” she said. “It really is the time to think outside of the box and restructure in a way that is beneficial for students.”
Should the system file exigency, LSUS would host campuswide meetings for restructuring input. Everyone will participate in those discussions, Sisson said.
“I’m proud at how we managed (the cuts),” he said. “We will get through it, but there will be pain. We’re still doing amazing things. Everyone needs to know that and contact their legislator and tell them ‘this is important to us.’ It would be a dismal and gray world without universities.”