Written by Alex Bitter, Editor-in-chief, and Noelle Fujii, News Editor.
With one month to go before fall semester begins, departments may lose lecturers that they have relied on to teach classes for years under a proposed hiring freeze.
Even as students continue to register for fall courses and faculty submit planned offerings for the spring, a spokesman for the Chancellor’s Office said it will be up to UH’s deans and program directors to decide what positions faculty will be able to hire.
Some lecturer and staff positions are expected to go unfilled this year under Chancellor Tom Apple’s plan to close a $10 million budget gap for the next two years.
According to Elmer Ka‘ai, director of advancement for the Chancellor’s Office, department heads can work with their respective overseers to come up with a sustainable business plan.
“A careful analysis of our budget has led to the conclusion that we need to trim our spending by $10 million this year and next year in order to regain our budget equilibrium,” Apple said in his memo. “That is about 2.5 percent of the budget that comes from the state and tuition, which is an amount we should be able to cut while preserving … core services for the students at the Mānoa campus.”
On July 15, Apple sent a memo proposing a hiring freeze, a freeze on mechanisms for increasing salaries that require state funding, budget controls and the creation of a campus-wide budget committee. He also requested that departments examine the size and use of tuition waivers in their graduate programs and minimize salary expenditures that may not give investment returns.
Meda Chesney-Lind, chairwoman of the Women’s Studies department, said Approximately one-third of her classes are taught by lecturers and adjunct faculty, but it now looks like those classes may not be around in the fall as the paperwork for these lecturers haven’t all gone through.
“We don’t know that the agreement we made to you folks at the end of spring semester to run that fall schedule will be honored. Because lecturers generate a lot of money for the university from tuition revenue, cutting their positions doesn’t make sense,” Chesney-Lind said.
But there is an exemption process that could allow departments to hire lecturers if deans and directors determine that a position is critical. Ka‘ai said deans and directors must sign off before searches for new hires can begin.
Faculty who will be applying for tenure and promotion — both of which include salary increases — will also be affected, and whether those candidates will be considered for promotion will also depend on deans and directors.
According to Chesney-Lind, graduate students teaching as lecturers or serving as student assistants can’t count on having their job.
“That’s a lot of our graduate students,” she said. “I don’t remember this ever happening before.”
With just a few weeks until the spring schedule is due, department chairs “are having to face spring semester where we may not be able to hire these fabulous folks we’ve counted on to fill out our schedules for years,” Chesney-Lind said.
Robert Littman, chair of UH’s Classics Program, said Apple’s response to the shortfall wasn’t the best option.
“This whole idea of a budget freeze at a time when the state is rolling in money is ridiculous,” he said. “By cutting lecturers, you cut a cheap source of labor, and you reduce the availability of classes.”
One course that Littman teaches is Greek and Roman Mythology. The class is typically capped at 150 students and requires a graduate TA as well as student graders. While he will have both positions in the section of the class he is teaching this fall, he said he might have to reduce next spring’s section to 30.
“Through their appropriate vice chancellors, the deans or Directors will recommend or suggest potential programs that may be eliminated,” Ka‘ai said. “At this time, no specific programs have been identified for closure.”
According to Ka‘ai, the campus will re-evaluate its fiscal situation at the end of fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to determine the length the hiring freeze will last.
Faculty and staff will still receive raises this year that were negotiated through collective bargaining with the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) and other public unions.
THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM
According to Apple’s memo, the campus has been using approximately $20 million a year from its reserves.
Robert Cooney, Faculty Senate vice chairman and an associate professor in public health, said Apple’s plan is a legitimate response to a significant budget problem.
“For many years, we’ve just been basically digging into the savings account to cover things, and it’s fast approaching the point where we’re not going to be able to do that anymore,” he said.
He thinks Mānoa is trying to do too much, and the question should be whether the campus can afford to do what it’s doing.
“The real fundamental question is: Can we afford the expensive research, the expensive medical school, athletics — which are some of the major expenditures,” he said.
Ka Leo previously reported that each student pays about $2,500 for the bill.
“Undergraduate students should really be upset about what’s happening,” Cooney said. “The money they’re paying in tuition is not going directly for their education and their benefit, and that’s not right.”
He said that there needs to be an open discussion with faculty and students on what the campus can afford.
Meanwhile, Littman said that Apple and other administrators don’t have the business savvy or budgeting experience to manage the university’s finances.
“Administrators have to deal with economic issues,” he said. “My experience with Apple is that he and the presidents just don’t have a good financial grasp on what it takes to run a financial business.”
A CONFUSING PLAN
The plan has left many students and faculty concerned and perplexed.
As of press time, no faculty Ka Leo spoke to have been advised about what cuts, if any, would need to be made for the upcoming semester. It was unclear when those determinations would be made, as well as how departments would apply for an exemption to the hiring freeze.
ASUH Vice President Kelly Zakimi said she and President Stephen Nishihara were still trying to gather more information about the budget plan before taking a stance on it.
Zakimi spoke on behalf of Nishihara, who was traveling abroad. While she said she supports the action Apple is taking to improve the campus’s financial situation, she added that ASUH would lobby against any course section cuts.
“If course sections are cut as a result of this attempt to close the budget gap, ASUH is planning to take action,” she said. “(They are) counterproductive to the Chancellor’s efforts of getting students to graduate on time.”