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Another furlough coming: Utah State’s hard times not over yet, Albrecht says

September 15th, 2009 Posted in Opinion

By Amanda Pierce

LOGAN — Utah State University is in the midst of tough times, but the future holds great promise, President Stan Albrecht said in his first State of the University speech in more than four years.

“We have faced, as you know, enormously difficult times, and those times are not yet over,” Albrecht said Tuesday. “And yet this university has, I believe, an enormously bright future.”

Albrecht was optimistic yet realistic about the future budget restraints that face USU. He said he wants to be honest about both the challenges and opportunities that are ahead for the university and its staff.

“My biggest worry is we continue to grapple with difficulties. One of the challenges is trying to find the balance between truth and transparency on the one hand, and projecting an attitude of optimism and hope for this university on the other,” he said.

Albrecht said this economic crisis is bigger and unlike anything the university has faced in the past. He said it is different this time, not like the aftermath of the 1990s or the downturn of the American psyche after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The loss of state support is compounded with the economic downturn, Albrecht said. There are 82,000 unemployed in Utah and 4.9 million unemployed in the country. The state budget cuts for the university have added up to $27.5 million. There is a $6.5 million ongoing cut from the fall of 2008; a $5.7 million one-time cut that was covered by the university-wide furlough last spring; and an $8 million ongoing
cut from July 2009.

Albrecht said many of the foundations the university relies on for financial support are unable to help now.

“Our challenge is to find ways to deal with this new reality, while at the same time position this great university for continued success,” he said.

The university has received $13 million in stimulus funds, but that is only a temporary fix, Albrecht said. And it is possible the university will receive more cuts in 2011. In the past year, 162 university positions have been lost, mostly unfilled positions or voluntary separations, but a small number of employees were terminated.

The university still needs to cover $13 million in additional cuts by July 2010, Albrecht said. New revenue created by an increase in Tier II tuition will account for $6.5 million of these cuts, he said. This increase will be spread evenly over the next two years, an increase of $3.25 million each year.

However, this will not cover all of the losses the university is facing, Albrecht said. There is a proposed faculty and staff differentiated furlough for the next academic year — employees with the lowest income will have a minimum two-day furlough and the employees with the highest income will have a maximum five-day furlough, he said. This furlough will be spread out over a year. Albrecht said a significant number of jobs will be saved by doing this.

“This is not an easy thing to do and will not be without consequence for our institution,” he said.

Speaking to junior faculty, he said, “A number of you may be wondering whether you made the right choice in selecting an academic career. And some of you may be asking whether you made the right choice in selecting Utah State University as a place to begin that career. As you grapple with those important questions, let me encourage you to keep current troubles in context. These are difficult times, but they
will pass, and as they do, there will remain all those reasons you selected an academic career in the first place. Those reasons are just as real, just as valid as they were when you first made the choice to become an academic.”

He said the university will become an even greater institution because of the hard-working faculty, and encouraged them to not lose hope in this difficult time.

“Personally I feel a great sense of humility and honor for the opportunity to be at Utah State University,” Albrecht said. “And, yes, I feel that even in these difficult times. Together, you and I will continue to build the kind of university that we aspire for this one to become. And that is a good thing.”

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