November 11, 2008

Budget Cuts May Slow Faculty Hiring, Lower Profs’ Retirement Funds

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Last week a non-professional hiring pause and construction hold went into effect as part of Cornell’s plan to combat the national economic crisis and state budget cuts to the University. Although the long-term effects of the economic crisis remain to be seen, some effects are evident in different departments across the University.
The hiring pause specifically applies to staff and non-faculty, but the budget cuts may slow down the process of hiring faculty. Even so, most faculty hiring is continuing as usual.
“The president exempted faculty hiring from the pause,” William Fry, dean of the faculty, said. “Right now people are going [on] with hiring that they’ve been permitted to initiate.”
The hope is that the hiring pause will be short term. Nevertheless, the effects of the hiring pause may be most severe in the public sector of the University due to state cutbacks this year and next year, according to Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations and economics.
“The hope is that this will just be a temporary slowdown in hiring, that’s not going to affect the long run,” Ehrenberg said.
Aside from budget cutbacks, the hiring pause and economic crisis have may have an impact on faculty and staff nearing retirement. Faculty members who planned on retiring soon may delay retirement because their retirement accounts have been substantially lowered by the crisis. If faculty members do retire in the midst of the hiring pause, there may also be a question as to whether or not their positions can be filled, according to Ehrenberg.
In the short term, there could be vacancies created by retiring faculty, which could create a need for classes to be taught by fewer professors or less expensive or adjunct staff, Ehrenberg said.
One department experiencing some of these effects is Collective Bargaining, Labor Law and Labor History in the college of Industrial and Labor Relations, a department that needed to expand its faculty before the economic crisis and budget cuts, according to Ileen Devault, chair of the department.
Since the department is stretched thin, administrators, rather than tenured faculty, teach many collective bargaining classes. Due to budget cuts and the hiring pause, faculty who teach larger classes may be afforded less teaching assistants and the department cannot offer as many elective courses as it has in the past because there is not enough faculty to teach other classes, Devault said.
“We’re stretched too thin at this point and it doesn’t look like we are going to get any help in the immediate future,” she said.
On the other hand, there is a greater degree of uncertainty in other departments, such as psychology. The psychology department received approval to search for a new faculty member before the hiring pause, which will not change, according to Tom Gilovich, chair of the department.
Since psychology is a popular major, the University must strike a balance with the department in order to continue to uphold the department in the midst of the budget cuts, according to Gilovich.
“We’ve always wanted to teach more sections than we’ve been able to. With more resources we could do more,” Gilovich said. “… This is a dynamic story that could change drastically in two months.”
The department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences has seen no impact thus far, having just come out of a period of staffing. The department has no immediate plans or needs to hire staff, according to Larry Brown, chair of the department.
“I think that in terms of staffing we are in pretty good shape. We were thinking of doing some modifications to the staffing. If there are cut backs we’ll see,” Brown said.
Modifications would come from inside Cornell, Brown said.
The administration is working to serve students and keep the University running smoothly, according to Kent Hubbell ’69, dean of students.
“I’m not aware that any classes will be canceled,” Hubbell said.
Luckily for students, the hiring pause will not have a dramatic effect on classes because the pause is a short-term solution.
“[It is] meant to prevent that very sort of negative outcome. In conjunction with the 90-day construction pause and 45-day university-wide review of “operational effectiveness,” it will simply provide the University with a bit of necessary financial breathing room,” said Mark Fontana ’10, undergraduate chair of the University Assembly.