UO faculty weigh in on administration’s budget cuts

The University of Oregon is facing a budget crisis. Faculty members are being let go, tuition prices are rising and no one appears to have a solution.

At a recent speech and Q&A session, President Michael Schill personally expressed his frustration over students and faculty decrying tuition hikes and staff cuts but not offering any alternative solutions. However, that narrative is now being questioned.

“The faculty and the three unions have been making alternative suggestions for literally years,” Gina Psaki, an Italian language professor, said in an email. “The senate, which has representation of UO students as well, should be actively involved in advance when changes are made to institutional priorities and resource allocations.”

The frustration that Psaki and others feel was exacerbated when the university community received a memo in January announcing that administration had made a decision about faculty cuts. Schill was focusing on cutting non-tenure track faculty and hiring research oriented tenure track professors in their place.

“The senate as a body wasn’t consulted in advance or asked for alternative solutions,” Psaki said.

Administration contends that it has been open with faculty members; however, timetables have presented a problem with implementing solutions that lie outside of faculty cuts.

“We weren’t trying to hide things,” Provost Scott Coltrane said, “but we didn’t know how many cuts would be necessary.”

Henry Alley, an emeritus professor of literature in the honors college, believes these kinds of top-down decisions being made without faculty consultation are the heart of the problem.

“The major consideration for me is not the financial challenge that we face right now,” Alley said. “The main consideration for me is how to treat the people we already have. The president needed to assess the present system and consult with the faculty before he and his supervisors made the cuts to make way for more tenure-track faculty. It was all too hasty.”

The decision by Schill to acquire more tenure-track faculty is one that is expensive, but ultimately useful in boosting the university’s national image. As Oregon’s status as a member of the Association of American Universities is on tenterhooks, faculty members focused on research add value to the institution.

“The state needs to have a research university,” Bill Harbaugh, a professor of economics, said. “If we increase the portion of research faculty, then there will be some spillover benefits to the rest of the state. So this is a good plan that he’s got.”

Other faculty and students have pointed fingers at “the wasteful proliferation of six-figure administrative positions,” as Alley termed them. Schill has drawn flack from faculty and classified workers’ unions for his almost $800,000-per-year salary. Alley’s plea is that the university will “review — with faculty participation, that’s key — these costly positions.”

There may be several reasons for budget concerns, but as the College of Arts and Sciences found out, the non-tenure track faculty that Schill cut were in fact hemorrhaging money. The school was employing increasingly more non-tenure faculty, even as enrollment in the department fell.

Coltrane explained that when the state cut funding to higher education, the University of Oregon did not make proper adjustments. “We didn’t lay anyone off,” he said. “We just enrolled more students.”

As administration continues to troubleshoot the university’s funding problems, Alley and other faculty members have expressed hope that they will be involved in the decision. According to Alley, the university needs “cooperative work with the faculty to come up with creative solutions to shared problems.”

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Max Thornberry

Max Thornberry

Senior News Editor. Baseball Fan. Martial Artist. Lover of books and words. Follow him on Twitter @Max_Thornberry

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