Some question effect on reputation but school will save more than $6 million via plan
UNLV President Neal Smatresk and university administrators have instituted a tenured buyout option in order to avoid firing tenured faculty.
The Tenured Faculty Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (TFVSIP’Z) is unique to UNLV and has only been extended to tenured faculty. If the administrative proposal is approved, tenured faculty may avoid possible elimination because of the buyouts and opt to leave the university with a severance package.
In a campus town hall meeting held on June 8, Smatresk explained the purpose of the TFVSIP’s.
Forty-eight tenured faculty members have taken the buyout, amounting to a $6.34 million net benefit gain towards faculty line cuts. Those who took the buyouts were offered severance compensation equal to 1.5 percent of an individual’s salary — .2 percentage points more than the individual’s total compensation including benefits.
The 48 faculty members will have to retire by June 30 and have, in effect, dispelled concerns of eliminating tenured faculty, an action Smatresk described as the “bitter last resort.”
“We are a campus that seeks to honor tenure,” he said during the town hall meeting. “We certainly don’t need to have the black eye of elimination of tenured positions from our institution if we plan on recruiting, growing and thriving again in the near future.”
The colleges of business, fine arts and school of allied health sciences have the highest number of TFVSIP’s, each having six tenured faculty who agreed to take the buyout.
“Through your actions, you’re going to help defend tenure at UNLV and ensure that we emerge from the budget crisis stronger than we could have if [the buyouts] did not occur,” Smatresk said, addressing the 48 faculty members. “We felt it was the right thing to do.”
But Nevada Faculty Alliance lobbyist James Richardson who is also a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno’s sociology department described the buyouts as an “expensive process.” He said that any institution using the option would have to make an up-front salary payment to anyone who chooses to retire prior to that individual’s contract deadline.
Richardson maintained that the buyouts were an “excellent” opportunity for faculty members as individuals, but raised the question as to who will cover the courses after the 48 tenured faculty retire.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, particularly if [faculty members] think their position may be eliminated due to future budget cuts,” Richardson said. “You can save some money in the long run, but you may end up having some difficulty to offering curriculum.”
He said that aside from the buyout option Smatresk introduced, vertical cutting is another viable route to meet budget constraints, which would in turn allow a greater possibility of institutional planning. Vertical cuts would result in the elimination of entire programs and faculty lines, some of which may be tenured.
“[Vertical cuts] give much flexibility for the institution but it doesn’t give much flexibility for the individuals,” Richardson said. “There really are two philosophies that have consequences for the institution and the faculty members of that institution.”
Still, he expressed understanding as to why TFVSIP was created.
“[The buyout] has its positives and it has its minuses,” Richardson said. “I can certainly understand why UNLV has done it and I can understand why [other] institutions don’t do it.”
Nevada Faculty Alliance Chair Gregory Brown advocated for the buyouts, explaining that the 1.5 percent compensation is reasonable because, had the TFVSIP’s not been introduced, tenured faculty would still have to be paid for at least another year in addition to operating costs they will generate.
He pointed out that had faculty members been given a Notice of Non-Reappointment instead of having the option to take a buyout, their motivation to work would decrease. Brown also agreed with Smatresk that the buyouts were the best option to avoid the possible legal hassle of firing tenured faculty.
“What it amounts to is recognition of the importance of respect for contractual agreements and unwritten agreements between faculty and students,” he said. “It would have struck a blow at the heart of [the student-teacher] bond if tenured faculty were laid off.”
Brown asserted that even though buyouts will save UNLV money during the next biennium, the true goal was to maintain the university’s integrity and image.
“It’s a way of trying to put the university on a firm footing and leaving as little curricular damage as possible,” he said. “It’s really about managing personnel that’s consistent in producing a great university.”