University of Tennessee Trustees Study Cuts to System
February 26, 2009
By Joan Garrett
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
Chattanooga, Tenn. - MEMPHIS -- Leaders in the UT system should stop playing to the voters by vowing to keep college tuition low and make decisions that bring long-term help to the state's universities, one school president said Thursday.
"Our tuition level is still one of the biggest bargains in the South," UT-Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes said. "Sometimes the college and leadership has to make a decision that will help in the long run instead of playing to a voter, playing to a constituency. We are losing ground in Tennessee. We are going to lose faculty, and we are going to lose administrators."
Mr. Rakes made the comments Thursday during meetings of the UT board of trustees, which is spending several days reviewing plans to offset massive cuts to the UT system, which included tuition increases, stopping endowment payments and trimming academic programs.
Trustees also reviewed the plans to cut jobs on UT campuses. At UTC, 59 positions will be lost, including 24 currently filled positions, and 326 jobs will be eliminated at UT, 204 of which are currently filled, documents show.
Rebekah Jordon, a minister, said higher education workers and Memphis community members are concerned that the board is moving too quickly and making decisions without enough information.
"There are alternative measures than job cuts," she said.
On Thursday, the board also approved an early retirement program, which could eliminate hundreds of agricultural extension agents across the state. Officials said the system will save more than $1.6 million by implementing the program.
"These cuts are significant," said outgoing UT President John Petersen. "If we do not go through with the cuts this year, the cliff becomes a lot steeper."
To make up some of that financial plunge, leaders at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are pushing for the board to approve a 9 percent tuition increase, and officials with UT-Martin are asking for an 8 percent tuition increase.
However, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission has recommended only a 7 percent increase for UT's smaller campuses and a 9 percent tuition increase at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
UT board Vice Chairman Jim Murphy said campus chancellors need to find a way to justify their request for a higher tuition increase because Gov. Phil Bredesen and the Legislature want to keep tuition low.
He also said asking for a higher tuition increase could discourage the Legislature from increasing state appropriations.
A group of about 20 people from the Workers Interfaith Network and the Campus United Workers gathered outside the board meeting for a prayer vigil and demonstration against job cuts.
Forty academic programs across the UT system are being reviewed for possible cancellation, Dr. Petersen said. However, final decisions on program cuts will not be made until the board's June meeting.
Trustee Andrea Loughry suggested that some of the most popular majors charge higher tuition than other, less-popular ones. Dr. Petersen said that is something that should be looked into.
While some people have said that the recently passed federal stimulus bill, which could provide $500 million for higher education in Tennessee over the next two years, will relieve some financial cuts, Dr. Petersen said stimulus aid is only a quick fix and deep cuts still are needed.
"We have been hurt more than K-12, and hopefully, in two or three years, we can come up with some more recurring money for higher education," said Doug Horne, chairman of the efficiency and effectiveness committee. "We can all hope and dream about that."
Earnings from the UT endowment fund were down 30 percent this year. If markets continue to decline, UT may need to consider, for the first time, suspending endowment payments, said Charles M. Peccolo, vice president and treasurer at UT.
"Most of the carnage occurred during the past six months in the capital markets," he said. "This impacts what our departments and colleges can distribute for scholarships."
As part of the budget cuts, the UT Institute of Agriculture is being forced to cut $2.6 million from extension offices across the state. Of the 700 full-time workers employed with the state's extension agency, 250 are eligible for early retirement.
There are dozens of extension agents in the Chattanooga area, said Joseph A. DiPietro, vice president for agriculture at UT.
The early retirement program, which allows employees over the age of 50 to retire, gives those who leave an opportunity to come back to work part time for one year. However, they may not be kept as part-time employees more than one year, Mr. DiPietro said.
"We will lose some valuable people," he said.
Some trustees voiced concerns about losing agricultural services for the state and cutting employees who are already poorly paid.
"Some of the extension agents are paid so poorly that they qualify for food stamps," Trustee Charles Wharton said.
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