A furlough plan for state university employees could begin early next month and require top administrators to take as many as 10 unpaid days under guidelines approved Friday by the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents.
The regents gave university presidents flexibility to tailor furlough plans to the needs of each campus, but the vast majority of the system's more than 21,000 employees will feel the effects. Details are not final, but Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he expects to receive plans from each president early next week and will probably approve them by the end of the month.
Furlough days will begin shortly after that, and entire campuses are likely to close on some days when classes are not scheduled.
The $26 million in furlough savings represents the most prominent piece of $94 million in overall cuts to the system since the start of the fiscal year in July, which also includes a 3 percent reduction in the system's operating budget. The cuts have forced hiring freezes, thinner course offerings, reductions to financial aid and maintenance budgets and creative trims, such as the deactivation of an escalator at the University of Maryland, College Park that cost $100,000 a year to run.
"We can't allow people to think we can absorb these cuts with no impacts to the students," Kirwan said of the furloughs and budget reductions.
The furloughs will be similar to those implemented by the system this spring, with the lowest-paid employees likely to face a few unpaid days and the highest-paid employees as many as 10.
Regent David Nevins urged the campus presidents to implement the plan with minimal interruptions to class schedules.
"You can work around it and make sure that happens," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The road ahead is no brighter, with another $230 million in state cuts possible this year and a $2 billion shortfall projected for fiscal 2011.
Kirwan held to his position that a midyear tuition increase would be an unlikely step reserved for the most "dire" circumstances. But when asked if an increase will be on the table for fall 2010, he said, "It has to be at some point. At a certain point, you can't compromise the quality of education you offer."
State tuitions have remained frozen for four years, one of Gov. Martin O'Malley's most cherished accomplishments. But the governor said recently that the freeze wasn't meant to last forever.
"We have to have a tuition increase," said C.D. "Dan" Mote, president of the University of Maryland, College Park. "I've even heard the students calling for it in recent discussions.
"They don't want the quality of education compromised."
Mote is against a midyear increase, however, saying it wouldn't generate enough revenue to justify the bad feelings it would engender.
The regents posed questions throughout Friday's meeting about the impact of operating cuts this year.
Kirwan said his universities are offering fewer courses because of hiring freezes and reduced budgets for adjunct professor salaries. "That increases the time it takes some of our students to get a degree and that can be a huge fiscal burden on them," he said.
The chancellor added that cuts will probably wipe out much of the progress the system hoped to make on facility maintenance.
Regent Norman Augustine asked if the cuts have made universities vulnerable to faculty raids by other institutions, especially those from overseas.
Mote replied that universities from the United Kingdom, China and Abu Dhabi have all targeted top faculty members. "We're a wounded buffalo at the moment," he said.
Targeted furlough savings, by university
University of Md. College Park...$10.2 million
University of Md. Baltimore...$5 million
University of Md. Baltimore Co....$2.4 million
University of Baltimore...$900,000
University of Md. Eastern Shore...$770,000
Bowie State... $650,000
University of Md. University College...$530,000
University of Md. Biotechnology Institute...$260,000