Boise State University has announced its plan to furlough faculty members over the next few months, despite projections that the state is on track for a record-breaking budget surplus.
Boise State Interim Provost Tony Roark sent the plan in an email Wednesday. It would affect 540 faculty earning more than $40,000 a year. Those who earn more will be required to take more time off.
The university said furloughs will reduce the need for layoffs and future cuts, saving $1.1 million. That’s less than 1% of the funding it gets from the state.
“What’s the point of making your faculty pretty mad over such a small amount of money?” said Steve Utych, a political science professor at Boise State.
Even before the pandemic, the university was dealing with permanent budget cuts from the state. Those, coupled with a one-time, 5% reduction across all state agencies added up to a roughly $10 million hit.
Boise State lost about another $23 million due to event cancellations last spring and new coronavirus-related expenses, not to mention the loss of athletics revenue.
“I understand the university’s position that they’re trying to manage their financial concerns,” said Jenn Mallette, a technical communications professor at Boise State.
“But it also feels like we’ve been working so hard over the summer in time often that wasn’t compensated and we’re being asked to give more when when we’re pretty overworked at this point, too," she said.
The university also admitted that its financial picture could’ve been grimmer. Student enrollment is up slightly from last fall and more out-of-state students, who pay significantly more for tuition, are taking classes.
These furloughs, which have also affected faculty at other Idaho universities, come as the state is predicting a record $530 million revenue surplus.
Despite that, Gov. Brad Little said last week he would not roll back a $200 million cut to state agencies despite the potential surplus.
That doesn’t sit well with Utych, who said politicians in Idaho often claim they’re pro-education.
“Honestly, in the six years I’ve lived here, I can’t think of a single thing they’ve done to show that,” he said. “It’s all cheap talk.”
A spokeswoman for the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about his position in light of the new furlough announcement.
It’s unclear just how faculty will implement these furloughs while students are still taking classes.
In a presentation outlining the plan, university officials say classes cannot be cancelled to take furlough time. They recommend taking furlough time in four-hour increments.
Mallette said she will likely have to shelve time she dedicates towards her research, which focuses on supporting underrepresented people in the engineering industry. But she said that’s not realistic for all faculty, some of whom are teaching five courses each semester.
“Every single minute of their work time is being spent supporting students and student learning,” she said.
The final furlough plans are still being finalized. Professional staff at Boise State were required to follow a similar furlough plan earlier this year and the university has begun laying off some staff members in the last several weeks in response to the budget cuts.
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