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SOU plan eliminates scores of jobs by 2018

Between retrenchment, retirements and restructuring, university expects to save about $6.1 million a year
 Posted: 2:00 AM March 15, 2014

The equivalent of more than 80 positions will be eliminated at Southern Oregon University through layoffs and retirement by 2018, according to the final retrenchment plan released Friday.

Known and anticipated retirements will account for the equivalent of 32.5 positions. Another 25 permanent and adjunct faculty and 3.3 temporary adjunct faculty will be laid off, according to the plan.

Another 19.25 positions will be eliminated through academic restructuring that is outside of the retrenchment plan. These will primarily be classified and administrative positions, according to the plan.

The eliminated positions will save SOU about $6.1 million per year.

"We have to be as lean as possible," SOU President Mary Cullinan said Friday. "We're trying to save enough so we can reinvest."

The international studies and fine arts majors will be spared, but all other proposed retrenchment cuts will happen.

The two majors were saved by convincing arguments that eliminating them wouldn't save the university sizeable money, said Cullinan.

The university will plan to eliminate and then potentially reinstate a physics program with a more concentrated focus that works better with regional employers, after it received more than 70 comments from scientists, instructors and local business owners about the proposed cut.

"We'll consider bringing physics back in a way that works," said Cullinan.

Just 31 students had declared one of five physics concentrations available in fall 2013, and there were no physics graduates last year.

Cullinan said the director of the school's new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) division will work with current and emeritus faculty and local employers to try to reinvent the physics program.

The university will realize another $7.8 million in one-time savings from administrator and faculty furlough days, savings in annual assessments and one-time fund transfers.

The cuts will help the university accrue a 5 percent fund balance by the end of the 2013-15 biennium and a 10 percent balance by the end of 2015-17.

The amounts saved are higher than forecast in last month's provisional plan because of reorganization and other reductions outside of retrenchment.

Cullinan said the university had avoided such deep academic cuts over the last few years, but eventually felt it was the only option.

"We've tried to protect the academic side for some time," she said.

Through retirements and eliminated positions, SOU plans to bring its faculty ratio from 17-to-1 to 21-to-1 by 2018.

A proposed "very worst case" scenario originally included in the retrenchment plan has been removed, after faculty expressed that including the most extreme scenario brought up too much controversy.

"It was so distracting," said Cullinan.

She made an agreement with faculty that if enrollment and funding do take a substantial dip, the university can revisit the possibility of more extreme cuts at that time.

"It's extremely unlikely though," Cullinan said.

Over the next few years, seven majors and three co-majors, 11 minors, two certificates, and eight major concentrations will be phased out.

These include the physics program, majors in art history and French and minors in geology, geography and photography.

Faculty losing their positions will be given a one-year notice.

Majors facing elimination will be taught out, most over the next two years. Students wishing to declare a major facing elimination must declare by April 1.

Other cuts outside of retrenchment are helping SOU to reach financial sustainability, Cullinan said. Administrators making more than $50,000 per year will take five mandatory furlough days this year and next, she said, saving $94,000 each of those years.

Academic departments are being reorganized into seven divisions with leaders, instead of separate colleges with deans.

Each division will be responsible for forming its own plan to streamline costs by restructuring in scheduling, curriculum and other areas.

"We really need to plan in a whole range of areas," said Cullinan.

Cullinan said she'd like faculty, staff and students to consider this plan as the first step in moving forward to a sustainable university.

"This can form a foundation for us to be really sustainable in the future," she said. "We need a whole new look of how we are going to function."

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.


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