NOVEMBER 18, 2009

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State Budget Cutbacks Force USAO Cuts in Benefits, Salaries

With no end in sight to state budget cuts to higher education, the University of Science and Arts will trim benefits for all employees and implement furloughs and salary cuts for the remaining eight months of this fiscal year, which ends in June 2010.

USAO President John Feaver convened all employees Nov. 2 to discuss the news.

“As these cuts from the state started coming in August, we tapped our reserves, then restricted travel budgets and cut spending,” he explained. “This next austerity measure is necessary to protect our people from layoffs or cuts to programs.”

As part of the plan to make up a projected $360,000 cut in state allocations to USAO this year, college officials also will suspend payments to annuities for all USAO employees, a special benefit program launched in the 1990s to enhance retirement benefits. This week’s decision will not affect base retirement plans for all employees, but only the 5 percent annuity payments made by USAO for its employees through Lincoln Financial.

As state and national recovery occurs slowly, USAO officials hope to end austerity measures – and renew annuity payments – in July 2010.

Under the plan announced, furlough days for staff will occur in December and March. To lessen the impact on students, those furlough days will occur during the holidays and spring break.

In exchange, employees who earn less than $20,000 will surrender 1 percent of their annual salary. Employees who earn $20,000 to $29,999 will get a 1.5 percent cut. Employees earning $30,000 to $49,999 will lose 2 percent. Employees earning $50,000 to $59,999 will surrender 2.5 percent, and employees earning $60,000 and more will be cut 3 percent. These salary reductions will take effect Nov. 1.

Faculty members expressed concern for students and how the budget plan might affect academic needs. Because faculty cannot cut back on their commitments to students, their pay cuts will come without furlough.

President Feaver and the USAO Executive Council met with students to explain the situation and answer their questions and concerns.

"I'm impressed that the administration chose to talk with students about the issue before going completely public with it. The meeting was pretty depressing, but it made me feel really good when Dr. Feaver said that, even in the midst of a potential financial disaster, he wouldn't want to have any other job in the world," said Laron Short, a communication major from Midwest City and managing editor of the USAO student newspaper, The Trend.

"I think we all felt a sense that we're in this together and, for those of us who love this university, we really need to be understanding and sympathetic about what's happening to the staff and faculty members. The journalist in me wants to ask a lot of questions, but the activist in me wants to find a way for students to raise money for USAO," Short said.