Slippery Rock plans to lay off up to 20

Third state university to trim staff

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Slippery Rock University has drafted a budget reduction plan that includes up to 20 staff and administrator layoffs and other campus cuts in areas from finance and administrative affairs to library hours and university police. No faculty layoffs are expected.

The school, with 8,600 students, is the third of Pennsylvania's 14 state universities to notify its employees of likely job losses as the State System of Higher Education responds to both the state's ongoing fiscal crisis and anticipated loss of millions of federal stimulus dollars starting in 2011.

Kutztown University President F. Javier Cevallos already has told his campus that 39 positions, 10 of them filled, are being eliminated as part of a bid to find $4.2 million in savings.

Millersville University President Francine G. McNairy told her campus of an unspecified number of likely job cuts to help plug a $3.4 million shortfall.

At Slippery Rock, officials on Friday said the $4.2 million in expected cuts, effective with the fiscal year that begins July 1, are only part of what they say is the most serious financial challenge in the university's history.

In a letter to employees, Slippery Rock President Robert M. Smith said efforts have been made to protect the school's core academic mission. The ultimate scope of layoffs and other cuts will depend on variables, including how many employees sign up for a retirement incentive program recently unveiled across the State System.

"It's a distressing proposition to face doing less with less, and having to choose between equally important elements that contribute to the university's success," Dr. Smith said.

He said the cuts will better position Slippery Rock "to deal with the frightening reality of the 2011-12 budget, when the university will lose more than $3.1 million in federal stimulus funds."

In addition, Dr. Smith alluded to another financial worry reverberating across the State System: the impending surge in required contributions to the State Employee Retirement System.

At Slippery Rock alone, retirement fund costs that now total $691,000 a year will surpass $2 million by 2011-12, he said.

The State System, whose enrollment of 117,000 students has grown rapidly the last decade, receives $40 million less from the recession-battered state than it did two years ago. Federal stimulus money is expected to fill that hole through June 30, 2011, but campus officials say the budget cuts that have been in the works for months are essential to deal with both the loss of those federal dollars and the continuing prospect of lagging state support.

"Our universities are dealing with very harsh realities," said State System spokesman Kenn Marshall. "They're attempting to plan long term for the loss of those federal dollars."

Efforts have been made to avoid class reductions, Slippery Rock spokesman Karl Schwab said. Along with staff and administrator layoffs, Slippery Rock's reduction plan indicates that a few dozen other positions -- some long vacant -- stand to be removed from the budget.

The bulk of the cuts are within the division of finance and administrative affairs, which includes facilities and planning, officials said. Other cuts will hit such areas as student life, advancement, the president's office and university police, where a vacant police officer position and two security officer/dispatcher positions are slated to be cut.

Some of the targeted cuts are being achieved by replacing professors who are retiring or otherwise leaving Slippery Rock with lower-paid faculty.

For example, in the modern languages department, Slippery Rock expects to save $67,000 in salary, benefits and other costs by replacing a retiring full professor at top scale with a lower-paid faculty member, Mr. Schwab said.

The union that represents faculty and coaches across the State System says the budget cuts, on top of years of waning state support, are jeopardizing the future of public higher education.

It said the state decades ago covered 63 percent of the State System operating costs but now covers 34 percent. The union says the loss can be measured in rising class sizes, growing reliance on adjunct faculty and layoffs of student workers who relied on their positions for financial aid.

"The 'fat' has been trimmed from the academic mission of our universities," said Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. "The likely additional decline in state support will cause the [State System] to force cuts into the bone."


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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