The University of Georgia probably can avoid more furloughs for now, but could be forced to lay off employees next year unless the economy and tax collections pick up, President Michael Adams said Thursday.
The university has weathered recession-driven budget cuts admirably so far, Adams said at his monthly news conference, but if they continue much longer, the quality of education at UGA will decline.
"I think you can do what we're now doing for some period of time, but you can't do it (forever), and you probably can't do it for a whole lot longer than we've already done it," he said. "We need an upturn in a worst sort of way."
Adams said he thinks UGA can absorb the 3 percent cut, or $15 million, that the University System Board of Regents approved in November because the regents also raised student fees by $100. If state lawmakers make deeper cuts in higher education spending next year, though, he warned that the consequences will be dire.
"With any additional significant cuts, we would have to downsize the payroll beyond the some 500 positions that we've already cut," he said. "There are some programs here that, if the cuts are significantly greater, we might have to do without."
Fiscal year 2011 begins in July and the state budget generally is finalized in April, but Adams said he would announce any layoffs in January or February - once he gets a better idea of the state's financial situation - to give those employees time to find new jobs before the cuts kick in.
Lawmakers predict that the total state budget will decline by 30 percent over two years, from $21 billion in fiscal 2009 and $19 billion this year to about $15 billion next year. State revenue is down 15 percent for the year.
Furloughs beyond the six days employees already are taking off without pay are not an option because they would mean canceling classes, Adams said. Furloughs also are a logistical nightmare for a university the size of a small city, he said.
"This is just not as simple as saying, 'Let's close the mall next week,' " he said.
If cuts continue, regents may raise tuition and student fees again, although Adams called the idea unappealing at a time when many families cannot afford the hikes.
So far, the cuts have not affected academics because UGA is hiring cheaper contract instructors to teach undergraduates, Adams said. But the university needs tenured faculty to do research and teach upper-level classes, he said.
"Before long, there will be lasting damage" in number of faculty, class size and class availability, he said.
Administrators and top faculty also could begin to jump ship to private institutions, which seem to be having less trouble raising money than public universities, Adams said.
Adams also discussed UGA's new special collections library, tailgating trash and the death of mascot Uga VII.
-- North Campus generally was not as messy this football season as recent past seasons, but more improvement is needed, Adams said.
"We did a better job on recycling," he said. "The students got involved. We had more containers out around campus. Yet we had a couple games that were, in this part of the world, deplorable."
Future football tailgaters may have to pay a fee to set up on North Campus or be denied access if crowds get too large, Adams said.
He emphasized that he does not like the idea of a tailgating fee, but said it is something a committee with representatives from police, groundskeeping, athletics and other departments will consider to help cut down on the amount of trash left on North Campus after home games.
"I recoil a little bit from the notion of charging people even further, but whether there needs to be some token fee to indicate this is your area or not, I know that's one thing the committee is going to look at," he said.
-- UGA will break ground Jan. 28 on a new special-collections library near the corner of Baxter and South Hull streets, Adams said.
The $46 million, 115,000-square-foot, climate-controlled facility will house the Walter J. Brown Media Archive and Peabody Awards Collection, the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies.
Adams signed off on a design Tuesday, and the state sold bonds Thursday to cover two-thirds of the construction cost, he said. The rest was raised from private sources.
Construction is expected to take 18 months to two years.
-- Adams also weighed in against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' suggestion that UGA adopt a robotic bulldog as its mascot after Uga VII died last month.
"Maybe MIT or (Georgia) Tech would want a robotic dog," he said. "I'd prefer to have one I could pet and have slobber on me now and then. I have no intention of seeing anything other than what's been an important tradition in this place for a long period of time."