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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

UI Officials Feel Pressure for Layoffs

Faculty, staff hear criticism

December 08, 2009
by B.A. Morelli - Iowa City Press-Citizen

University of Iowa President Sally Mason and other UI leaders say they are feeling external pressure to have layoffs at UI.

Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and other state agencies facing cuts have either already laid people off, used furloughs or have announced plans to do so.

Meanwhile, UI officials have pointed to their ability to weather more than $60 million in state budget cuts this year without layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts. Now it seems UI is being penalized for that, they say.

"We've managed exceedingly well," Mason said.

But, Mason said, she hopes their ability to protect peoples' jobs is not being held against the university. When asked if pressure is on UI to have layoffs as other branches have, Mason said, "It does feel that way."

UI spokesman Tom Moore said Monday that Mason was not available for further comment on the matter.

Others at UI are feeling a similar sentiment. Faculty leaders say there is a perception that because UI has not had layoffs, UI is not suffering enough.

"That pressure is just a public perception that I've heard out there, that ISU and UNI suffered worse than UI. It doesn't mean it's true, but sometimes perception is everything," Faculty Senate President David Drake said. "The public looks at UI and says, 'How come they aren't laying people off?'"

Drake, a microbiology professor, said the pressure is coming from the regents and state legislators. But, he said, no one has specifically called for layoffs or furloughs. He said the sentiment also is apparent from the community, blogs and online comment forums, such as on the press-citizen.com.

At a recent faculty meeting, Drake pointed to a poll showing that Iowans think the Iowa state Board of Regents system should be cut more than other branches of government and a comment from Regent Ruth Harkin, who said during an October board meeting that the universities' budgets still have "runway" for more reductions.

Harkin did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Mike O'Hara, a psychology professor and a past Faculty Senate president, said he thinks UI is getting penalized for managing the budget well.

"Because we've managed the budget well and made choices along the way to preserve jobs, I think there are individuals in the community that feel we have not suffered enough, that if we have managed without layoffs perhaps there is more room to cut, and I think that is wrong," he said.

"Basically it is punishing us for competently managing the budget and to some degree rewarding others for not as competently managing the budget," O'Hara said.

O'Hara said the pressure is from "the community and regents and from the Legislature, and maybe even from the governor's office. And, I say pressure, I hear things, polls or public statements by people, not whispers or private conversations."

While UI has not laid people off from positions funded by the state budget, UI has had layoffs in self-funded units, including 11 in a pharmaceutical department and eight in a medical instrument shop. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics had 150 layoffs this summer.

Also, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union agreement with the state for all workers to take five days furlough will affect UI.

Mason said in October that UI may have to layoff 20 people from positions connected to the state budget.

ISU, which has faced similar state budget cuts as UI, had laid off 73 people as of Oct. 1, and announced plans for furloughs and temporary pay cuts at an October regents meeting. UNI President Ben Allen announced furloughs and said he expected layoffs, during the same October meeting.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said UI is being penalized because some of UI's cuts haven't been as visible.

"That's one of the perplexing problems. You don't want to penalize President Mason and Vice President (Doug) True, who have done a good job of budgeting and planning. Maybe the pain isn't as visible as at other institutions, but the pain is still there," Dvorsky said.

UI's budget situation was a little different because UI had unspent federal stimulus money and had slowed hiring and operations following the 2008 flood, which helped manage budget cuts, he said.

"I think people react to what they see, and if they don't see there are a bunch of layoffs right away they get a little nervous," Dvorsky said. "I think if legislators or others don't see layoffs they'll either react right away or ask questions. They should ask questions and they'll find out why it's a little different at UI."