Georgia colleges could furlough employees, chancellor says

ATLANTA -- College and university professors could be furloughed, jobs ended and tuition raised, University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis said Monday, but he said details would be worked out in coming months.

During two-and-a-half hours of testimony before the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Davis retreated from comments he had made in January to a joint House-Senate committee when he said he philosophically opposed furloughs. Monday, he said his preference was to make permanent cuts rather than cutting work days because the discipline required to make cuts would force the system to rid waste and inefficiency.

One in four of the University System's employees are professors with contracts whose combined salaries are greater than the payroll for the rest of the workers. For furloughs to have a significant impact, they would have to include professors and mean declaring a financial emergency to be able to get around professors' contracts.

Davis said breaking contracts could make recruiting professors harder in the future.

"It is not an easy tool for us to use," Davis said. "I should have expressed that it is not a tool of first choice."

Subcommittee Chairman Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville, said more legislators had complained to him about the lack of furloughs than any other higher-education concern, especially when other state workers are being sent home one or two days per month. Many lawmakers had suggested Davis' original comments suggested arrogance and an unwillingness to sacrifice like other agencies.

Davis said 62 people have been laid off, and he would expect more once each institution president is told the campus budget in the spring that must be met.

Additionally, about 800 administrative positions are vacant throughout the 35 colleges and universities in the system, and 500 teaching posts are being filled by part-time instructors at a time when the system has increased demand of 277,000 more credit hours this year.

Smith asked if the higher demand was due to advertising intended to generate students to pay tuition and secure faculty jobs.

"Are we advertising people to come to school just to get a head count, just to get people to come to school?" he asked.

No, Davis said, "We don't welcome them just because they generate credit hours. We welcome them because we want to educate them."

Tuition increases are likely, Davis said. His staff is evaluating several scenarios to present to the Board of Regents.

While some presidents, such as Michael Adams of the University of Georgia, had recommended tuition hikes because Georgia's has traditionally been lower than other southern states, Davis said that never struck him as a good enough reason. Tuition at Georgia schools has been heavily subsidized by taxpayers, but with a tight state budget, tuition will have to rise to replace the declining subsidy, he said.

"I don't see any way that tuition will not go up," he said.

The House has already passed the mid-year adjustment for the state's current budget. The subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee began Monday looking at what will go into the spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

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