Specific plans for cutting faculty at the University of Montana are circulating after a letter sent to deans on Aug. 17 set a timeline for cuts. Some campus leaders publicly raised concerns with the proposal on Wednesday.
Jon Harbor, the newly hired executive vice president and provost, outlined in the four-page letter his plan to downsize UM faculty to meet budget challenges over the next three years, but many of the decisions will be made as soon as this fall.
The plan can be summed up into four points:
- Adjust faculty numbers to match the average student-to-faculty ratio from 2009 to 2013.
- For the vast majority of programs, enrollment has dropped significantly since the 2009-2013 range, a high point in UM’s enrollment. While some faculty cuts have taken place, it often has not matched pace with the drop in students. There are plans to account for the differences in tenure-track and non-tenure track staffing levels, but the specifics get very complex, very quick. Check out the attached document for all of the details.
- Using the adjusted student-to-faculty ratios as a basis, a budget will be assigned to each department.
- This budget may be grown or shrunk based on how the program was judged by its “fit with and importance to the vision” of UM’s core goals and areas of focus, as determined last spring by the University Planning Committee.
- Deans and department chairs will develop a plan to meet the assigned budget by reducing faculty by 2021.
- As part of developing the plan, deans and chairs will be looking for faculty willing to “formally commit” to retire or quit by 2021. If volunteers aren’t found, President Seth Bodnar will consider retrenchment, the formal process of firing tenured faculty. The formal commitments to leave would be finalized on Oct. 1, according to the letter. Shortly after a Wednesday meeting of the President’s Cabinet, Provost Harbor sent an email to faculty broadly outlining the Aug. 17 letter.
- In Harbor’s Wednesday email to faculty, he said retrenchment plans would be presented to the Board of Regents in early winter 2019. According to faculty contracts, as negotiated by the faculty union, faculty layed off through retrenchment get one year’s notice.
Provost Jon Harbor outlined the latest plan for how to decide how many faculty need to be let go in a letter to deans, dated August 17.
Deans were asked to submit feedback on the original plan to the provost by Friday, Aug. 31, although it was unclear in Harbor’s Wednesday email if any of the dates had been pushed back to allow for further feedback.
At the Wednesday meeting, Harbor gave an update on the process. He said because faculty were not on contract over summer, progress halted. With school back in session, department chairs were charged with double-checking full-time faculty and student credit data to decide what departments need, in terms of curriculum and personnel.
Harbor was hired and joined the president’s cabinet this summer.
“There’s a lot of activity right now to make sure all of those plans are well-thought out and keep people in favor of making those [final recommendations] happen,” Harbor said at the meeting.
UM has been working on prioritizing which majors it wants to focus on, and which can be done without, since at least October 2016 under Royce Engstrom, but the pace picked up under interim President Sheila Stearns throughout 2017. The latest iteration of the committee used to rank programs on their worth and centrality to UM is the University Planning Committee, assembled by Bodnar in February 2018.
Matthew Semanoff, Faculty Senate chair, and Paul Haber, faculty union president, both voiced concerns about the process during the Wednesday meeting.
Haber questioned if it was a good idea for department chairs to have recommendations for staff cuts fall on their shoulders. He said it’s out of the norm for chairs to perform administrative duties such as making personnel recommendations about their colleagues.
“I’m not saying its wrong, I’m just saying it’s tricky business,” Haber said.
After raising concerns about the involvement of department chairs in cutting other faculty, Haber summoned the faculty union membership to a Friday meeting on the topic at noon in Brantley Hall.
Semanoff asked if the information concerning recommended cuts could be streamlined directly to faculty by one voice rather than through deans and department chairs, the latter being faculty themselves. He said it creates an “uneven filtering of information” if each individual dean is responsible for dissemination, meaning some faculty and staff hear the news before others.
Harbor stressed that before any final decisions are made, all recommendations will be filtered through shared governance entities, such as the Faculty Senate and union, for review. Additionally, hours after the meeting, Harbor sent an email to all faculty explaining the process outlined in the Aug. 17 letter to deans.
After Friday’s deadline, if unchanged, departments can expect further direction from the Office of the Provost in September, and faculty who commit to leave by 2021 will be due and finalized on Oct. 1, according to the Aug. 17 letter.