As the University of Montana’s fall budget gets hacked apart, the only certainty is that no one is truly secure. But the future looks different for tenured professors, adjuncts and administrative assistants or secretaries.
The exact amount of the cuts hasn’t been determined, so departments are trying to plan for fall semester without knowing how much money they’ll have to pay expenses — from salaries to phone bills.
Diane Rapp, an administrative associate in the history department, said her department is considering not hiring a replacement for the two tenured professors who will be on sabbatical next academic year — saving about $35,000, a typical salary for a starting adjunct professor.
Another option is cutting office supplies in order to save on the department’s operating costs.
“I personally am worried that our photocopier might be on the line,” Rapp said. “We’d have to go all the way to the University Center just to make a copy.”
At $17,000 a year, the department’s operating budget is already down to the bare essentials, Rapp added.
“There’s nothing left to cut,” she said. “We’ve been living like this forever.”
Rapp said her union, the Montana Public Employees Association, is asking the Board of Regents for a five percent raise this year and another next year. After 17 years working for the University, Rapp makes just under $36,000 a year and said she’s never gotten a raise of more than two or three percent.
Three professors in the history department earn more than $100,000 a year. Rapp acknowledged that lowering professors’ salaries could ease the budget pains, but said she thinks it would only drag down morale, especially considering UM faculty are already underpaid by national standards.
The situation is similar in the geology department, where office supplies and non-tenure track professors face uncertain futures, according to David Shively, a geography professor and president of the University Faculty Association — the union representing tenure-track professors.
Tenured professors enjoy a much higher level of job security, but if budget cuts were especially deep, Shively said they could still lose their jobs.
“Tenure really doesn’t mean a lot if the money isn’t there to pay faculty,” he said.
He stressed that UM is not facing cuts severe enough to warrant firing tenured faculty at this time.
The more likely scenario is that non-tenure track professors will be laid off. Shively said tenure track faculty would be taking over the classes formerly taught by laid-off professors, but some course sections might be dropped as well.
Non-tenure track faculty include adjunct professors whose positions are not permanent; research professors, who mainly self-fund their work through federal grants; and lecturers, Shively said.
An assistant professor can be promoted to associate professor and can then apply for tenure. The application goes through numerous levels of review, from the academic department to the Board of Regents, and the applicant must show quality teaching, as well as research and service on boards or committees while waiting for a promotion to full, tenured professor, Shively said.
This process is part of the reason College of Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher Comer called academia “the most hierarchical organization this side of the U.S. Army.”
Comer said each department has a teaching load for tenure-track faculty, so cuts wouldn’t force professors to take on so many classes that the quality of their work would suffer.
A common teaching load is two courses per semester, Comer said, but loads vary by department. Any course over the department’s standard load must be negotiated with the professor for extra pay.
Some professors take on extra courses without extra pay.
Marketing professor Jakki Mohr said her department’s standard load is nine credits per semester but she volunteered to teach an extra, one-credit course this spring for no extra pay.
With a salary of $139,389, Mohr is the university’s highest paid professor. But that salary isn’t far from the norm for the School of Business Administration, where 18 professors earn more than $100,000.
In addition to teaching an overload schedule, Mohr’s classes are usually at full enrollment. She is internationally renowned as both a professor and an author and has received more lucrative job offers from several European universities.
As for the potential cuts, Mohr said the department is planning to eliminate the course sections that students will miss least.
“It’s belt tightening and we all pitch in to make sure our students feel little impact,” Mohr said. “Unfortunately, I think the people who feel the pain the most are our short-term faculty.”
Dean Larry Gianchetta of the School of Business Administration said, the cuts could mean a total of six to seven adjunct professors being laid off across the school’s three departments and 25 to 30 sections of electives being cut.
The MPEA union contract dictates a strict process for laying off adjunct professors, according to Quint Nyman, executive director of the MPEA, which is the union representing university staff, including secretaries like Diane Rapp, and non-tenure track professors.
Once the department proves the necessity of cutting a position, lay-offs may begin after a 30-day notice is given. They’re based on seniority, so the person who’s been employed by the University longest can’t be cut first. Laid-off employees receive six months of health insurance and are at the top of the interview list for university system jobs for which they qualify.
“I know people are nervous,” Nyman said. “But there’s actually plenty of protection in there for them.”