University furloughs

Maryland system workers to lose up to 5 days under plan OK'd by Board of Regents

December 13, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

Employees of the state university system will be furloughed up to five days under a plan approved yesterday by the Maryland Board of Regents that would save $16 million in salary costs.

Regents said the furloughs, which will come between January and June, were preferable to laying off any of the system's 22,500 full-time employees. The furloughs, the system's first since 1992, were ordered by the governor as the state tries to balance its budget in the face of declining revenues and a global economic crisis.

Not all university employees will be furloughed. Lower-salaried employees might be spared or furloughed for only one or two days. The highest-salaried employees would take a five-day pay cut. Faculty salaries are highest at the University of Maryland, College Park, where professors make an average of $105,000.

University presidents, who will be included in the furloughs but said they will still come into work, said they would try to minimize the impact on classes.

University of Baltimore President Robert L. Bogomolny said he would ask faculty members to schedule their furloughs on days when they are not teaching.

"I am confident we will weather this storm and continue on our path to becoming one of the nation's great systems of higher education," said system Chancellor William E. Kirwan. "I'm confident the disruption to classes will be zero or very, very minimal."

The regents directed each university president to develop a plan for the furloughs in consultation with the chancellor's office. The plans are expected to be finalized before Christmas.

The system includes 11 universities and two research centers. The two public universities outside the system, Morgan State and St. Mary's College, also expect to impose furloughs.

Faculty members interviewed yesterday said they would not let the furloughs affect their classes and would come into work on furlough days.

"Students are paying for the education, and it's our job to provide that to them," said Jeff Leips, an associate professor in biological sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"To be honest, we're going to come in to work anyway. We all value teaching way too much," Leips said, adding that he would rather be furloughed than see people laid off. "I recognize the challenges that the state is facing, and we all have to sacrifice to get through this, hopefully short, period."

Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed last week furloughing more than 67,000 state workers for up to five days, depending on income, to save $34 million. The administration is in talks with unions representing state workers regarding a furlough plan for those employees, but it can impose furloughs without approval from the unions.

Even with the furloughs, the state faces a $150 million deficit in its $14 billion state operating budget.

At Towson University, officials have reviewed the furlough plan from 1992. At that time, Towson employees making less than $25,000 were not furloughed. Towson President Robert Caret said he was working to determine what that line would be this year. The university system has its own personnel policies and does not have to follow the same salary rules regarding furloughs as the state does.

The student member of the Board of Regents, Joshua L. Michael, proposed yesterday that the regents prohibit universities from reducing class hours under their furlough plans, noting that students won't be paying any less in tuition.

"If our primary goal here is to educate students and maintain quality, I can't think of a better way of doing that than maintaining classes," said Michael, a junior at UMBC.

But other regents said they wanted to give university presidents as much flexibility as possible in developing the furlough plans, and Michael's proposal was defeated.

The furlough days do not have to be consecutive, and employees can work on the days they are furloughed, but they are not required to do so.

This fall, the state cut $15 million from the university system's $4.1 billion operating budget, about $1 billion of which comes from state general funds. The system handled those cuts by imposing a hiring freeze, increasing class sizes and reducing program growth. The current round of cuts must come through furloughs and not program cuts.

Also yesterday, the regents approved two new degree programs. The University of Maryland law school won approval to offer a masters of law degree, a one-year program for students who already have their J.D. degree and want to focus on specialized areas including environmental law, constitutional law and business law. Bowie State University won approval to offer a B.S. in bioinformatics to prepare students for the biotechnology industry.

Both programs will be supported through tuition revenue and do not need additional funding, the universities said.

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