Can furloughs save land grant universities?
02 Feb 2009

Can furloughs save land grant universities?

A friend and colleague at the University

02 Feb 2009

A friend and colleague at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington wrote to me that, “UNCW MAY be doing furloughs like we saw at ASU. […] they will say ‘take off a day a week.'” As more state-funded universities are looking at furloughs to help remedy financial crises, I’m starting to think that furloughs might not be a bad thing for land grant universities:

  • People are a university’s competitive advantage. Furloughs help reduce the possibilities that valuable employees will be laid-off. Also, it provides an incentive for underperforming staff to seek employment elsewhere, while maintaining healthcare and other benefits.
  • Furloughs help fulfill the university’s land grant mission by encouraging staff and faculty to seek additional engagement with the communities they serve. This could include consultancies, secondary employment, or broader volunteer involvement.
  • Deadweight and under-performing faculty will be encouraged to leave or retire through reduced financial incentives. This could help address one critical failure of the tenure system where many tenured faculty underperform and consume greater financial resources than the value they contribute.
  • Likewise, furloughs encourage faculty who are productive, yet more engaged outside of the university, to leave. For faculty members that spend more of their time consulting or engaged on outside projects that provide little benefit to the university, furloughs provide an incentive for them to formally sever their relationship with the university.

By incentivizing departures, rather than forcing them, land grant universities can re-invest in (new and continuing) faculty and staff that will enhance their competitive advantage. In an era of economic distress, furloughs also can send a message to the community that the university is committed to retaining their investment in the community through jobs and continued or expanded engagement.

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  1. Joanna February 2nd, 2009 8:15AM

    John, I’m afraid I don’t agree that these results would follow. Staff at the U are already paid miserably. This would only increase their financial insecurity.
    How exactly do faculty “take a day off”? we are on salary, and essentially could work 24/7 and never be done. Faculty I know routinely work 50-80 hours a week. Just because they are given a pay cut will not reduce their work load. I see “forloughs” (aka: pay cuts) as contributing to a continuing demoralization arising from being expected to do more with less for many years now: less staff support, more students per class, increased work load because of rising expectations re: “productivity.” We already have a salary system that is medieval and that does not reward people for innovation in pedagogy or community outreach. High=performing faculty are already being raided by other institutions willing to provide more salary, more research support, and more respect. If we were in it for the money, we wouldn’t be working at the university; we’d become dental hygienists or intall car stereos (two jobs that pay more than I earn).
    The University has already offered early retirement incentives (positive ones) this year. But given the fact that our retirement portfolios just lost one-third of their value this year, I doubt many people could afford to take them.

  2. John Moravec February 2nd, 2009 9:33AM

    Joanna, I like what you said, especially: We already have a salary system that is medieval and that does not reward people for innovation in pedagogy or community outreach.

    Like the airlines and auto industry, I don’t see the model universities are built on as being viable in the modern world. I think that furloughs are more of a “nuclear option” that can do more harm than the “quick fix” they are intended to provide. However, if they become necessary anywhere, I hope that they can be properly managed to encourage staffing changes that can help modernize the university. This, of course, needs to be paired with significant structural reform.

    Let’s just hope that any university that chooses the nuclear option doesn’t blow itself up…

  3. Joanna February 3rd, 2009 11:43AM

    check out this discussion at Snarkmarket on “liberal arts 2.0”. this is the kind of discussion we should be having in academia, but the mind-set that defines “excellence” as line items on a CV doesn’t even have this on the radar screen:

  4. Azahar February 26th, 2009 3:27PM

    The people really are the best resource that a university has, as John described above. The students that get excited about their education are far more likely to succeed, and this of course ultimately stems from the faculty mentors. I loved this video on education importance and opportunities like what we are talking about here. The faculty and staff are our best resources!


    Azahar (EducationDynamics)