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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