• April 19, 2014

At 2 Texas Campuses, Faculty Buyouts Create Staffing Headaches

More than 130 tenured professors at Texas' two flagship universities have accepted buyouts that are expected to save their financially constrained departments nearly $18-million a year.

The offers, which included up to two years of pay for some liberal-arts professors, have provided a needed cushion for faculty members who were ready to retire, a bonus for some who wanted to move to other jobs, and new leases on life for a few lecturers who were due to be terminated. But they also created end-of-semester headaches for department chairs who had to quickly reshuffle their teaching rosters.

The retirement incentives are the latest responses by the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station to continued state budget cuts. State universities absorbed a 5-percent cut during the 2010-11 biennium and have been asked to plan for an additional 2.5-percent cut this fiscal year and a possible 10-percent reduction over the next two-year budget period, which starts this coming fall.

Both universities had already laid off adjuncts, lecturers, and staff members.

Tenured faculty members, whose jobs come with a guarantee of employment, got a carrot for leaving instead of a stick moving them to the door. The University of Texas offered buyouts over the summer to 71 tenured professors in the College of Liberal Arts. The criteria: A person's age plus his or her years on the faculty had to exceed 93. The professors were offered a lump-sum payment equaling two years of salary if they left at the end of the fall semester, and they had until October 18 to decide.

Twenty-seven faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts accepted the offer, and their departures are expected to save the college $2.4-million a year. Four more in fine arts and communication also accepted buyouts.

Texas A&M's flagship campus also extended offers to tenured professors who had worked there for at least 15 years. The 104 faculty members who accepted them received nine months' to 18 months' pay and can work through August 31. The university expects to save more than $15-million a year.

Filling Teaching Spots

The early retirements have freed up money for strapped departments but created administrative hassles for their leaders.

Six of the 76 faculty members in the University of Texas' English department accepted buyout offers. But because two of those professors had been scheduled to teach large sections of a required class, "Masterworks of Literature," in the spring, "we were suddenly looking at two classes with 200 to 250 seats each that couldn't run," said Elizabeth Cullingford, the department's chair.

(The department usually offers 10 sections of the course, each with up to 250 students, per semester.)

Ms. Cullingford was able to fill one teaching spot from her existing roster. "We found a willing associate professor who has taught the course before and switched her into it," she said.

But there was no one available to teach the second section. So department administrators added about 30 more students to each of the remaining sections, and some students who had hoped to take the course in the spring will have to wait until summer or fall.

These actions highlight the positive and negative sides of the buyout offer, Ms. Cullingford said: "As chair, you're thinking of your faculty members as people. One professor was longing to retire, but his 401(k) had taken a huge hit. This allowed him to retire when he wanted to." On the other hand, "We lost a couple of people we didn't expect or want to lose."

Ms. Cullingford also hired a lecturer to replace a professor who was scheduled to teach creative writing.

Life-Changing Choices

José E. Limón, a professor of English and director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Texas, decided to take the buyout offer even though at 66, he was at least four years away from his planned retirement date.

In January, he will begin a new phase of his career as a tenured professor of American literature at the University of Notre Dame, which accelerated its usual hiring process to assure him a job offer by mid-October—his deadline for accepting the Texas offer.

When he received the early-retirement pitch in the summer, "It was anxiety-producing, to say the least. For me, the overriding consideration was that I wasn't ready to stop working." He said he feels fortunate to have found a way to continue. The extra money is a nice bonus, he admitted.

While he is grateful for that, he is saddened by the circumstances that led to the buyout offer. "Some part of me is unhappy in the sense that it reflects the economic difficulties the university and state are going through," Mr. Limón said.

Another longtime faculty member in the Texas system is also using the incentive to move on to another university.

Thomas M. Woodfin, 58, had been an associate professor of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M when he received the buyout offer, which included nine months' salary. Mr. Woodfin was already considering a move to the University of Oklahoma. The buyout money sealed the deal. This week he'll begin as director of landscape architecture in the College of Architecture at Oklahoma.

"It's energizing. I'm looking forward to it," Mr. Woodfin said.

Some professors, though, are really ready to retire, and they are using the buyout to help pave the way. Thomas M. Cable, 68, is leaving the University of Texas's English department for more time, of "being at my desk."

"The best reason to retire is to have time for the reading and writing that I have been doing while teaching, although always in a way that has put teaching first," he wrote in an e-mail message from Burgundy, France. "There is a plain necessity of being in class at a certain time, and being there prepared, that does not hold for being at one's desk. Now being at my desk will have priority."

The department didn't have to look far to find a replacement for him in a graduate poetry seminar. Susannah Hollister, a 32-year-old postdoctoral student, will step in for her mentor this spring.

Hiring Back Instructors

At Texas A&M, each department was permitted to keep the money that was freed up through the "voluntary separation program," said Karan L. Watson, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. In some cases, department heads who were faced with ballooning class sizes hired back departing faculty members or laid-off adjuncts to teach a class or two.

Graduate students will teach a few more courses in English, said Paul A. Parrish, a 66-year-old professor of English at Texas A&M who is leaving but plans to expand his home office and continue working on projects with scholars around the country. He also plans to spend more time woodworking and gardening.

He hopes that the departures of senior professors like himself will mean that fewer adjuncts and lecturers will have to be let go.

Walter C. Daugherity, 64, a longtime senior lecturer in computer science at Texas A&M, received a notice in August that he would be out of a job by the following August. Lecturers teach a disproportionate share of the department's courses.

"When the termination notices were issued to all four lecturers in my department, it was a big shock," Mr. Daugherity said. "But with 12 months' notice, then the voluntary separation agreement, I postponed looking for a new job, expecting they would use the savings to retain lecturers."

That didn't happen, but Mr. Daugherity did receive a one-year reprieve, and he will be teaching through August 2012.

And like other laid-off lecturers, he hopes his department will conclude that it would get a bigger bang for its buck hiring them back than using their savings to bring in tenure-track professors.


1. tuxthepenguin - January 04, 2011 at 08:18 am

"Tenured faculty members, whose jobs come with a guarantee of employment"

I wonder if the writers for CHE have ever been on a college/university campus. This is a stunningly clueless statement.

Tenure means there are reasons you cannot be fired, and that you are given due process before you are fired.

You can be fired for failing to meet minimum standards of productivity. You can be fired for breaking the rules. In addition, tenured faculty members can be laid off for financial reasons. They can also be laid off due to restructuring.

The reason for the buyouts discussed in the article is that the universities would have to get rid of all lecturers and untenured faculty in a given department before they start laying off tenured faculty. It's not because the tenured faculty have a guarantee of employment.

2. ctdhe2005 - January 04, 2011 at 08:55 am

I think your last paragraph said it all.... So unless you're willing to virtually wipe out a department's faculty, the tenured professors are protected in times of budget pressures.

3. pokerphd - January 04, 2011 at 09:26 am

The story is an interesting preface to one that I predict we won't be reading in the cyber pages of the CHE or InsideHigherEd any time soon: the response and impact at other TAMU and UT system schools.

If the flagships are buying out and laying off faculty and staff to the tune of millions of dollars, but are funded by the state at significantly lower percentages of their budgets than are their "siblings," one can only imagine the pain at Pan American, the deletion at Dallas, the commotion at Commerce, the perturbations in the Permian Basin...

Methinks "Closing the Gaps by 2015" may soon be deferred in favor of closing the doors in 2011.

4. jthelin - January 04, 2011 at 09:47 am

Some context: The University of Maryland paid its fired football coach $2 million as a buy-out.

5. tuxthepenguin - January 04, 2011 at 10:15 am

@ctdhe: All organizations have rules (stated or unstated) to determine the order of layoffs.

6. dyspeptic - January 04, 2011 at 10:35 am

I love this quote:

"The best reason to retire is to have time for the reading and writing that I have been doing while teaching, although always in a way that has put teaching first," he wrote in an e-mail message from Burgundy, France.

The sense of irony shown by the author of the article is wonderful. I especially love the way she rubs the noses of the public in this buyout decision. The good people of Texas have felt all along that university teaching is a scam--that they teach (i.e., work) only a few hours a week as it is. And now these perfessers are being paid two years' salary to teach zero hours a week. Wow.

7. toddjay - January 04, 2011 at 11:13 am

The article doesn't describe how these buyouts affect pensions -- do the 2 years of pay count as retirement system service credit? Is the Texas pension system healthy enough that it can take on additional costs/liabilities? Can the faculty members who take this option be recalled to teach?

8. hmcleaver - January 04, 2011 at 11:35 am

First, the ignorance of dyspeptic is all too typical. If only "teach or perish" was the rule instead of "publish or perish" there might be some glimmer of truth in the perception that university "teachers" "teach (i.e., work) a few hours a week". (But only a glimmer, given the untold hours spent by serious teachers preparing courses and keeping them up to date.) Unfortunately, it is NOT the rule. Virtually all promotion and salary increases are now based on "merit" and the only "merit" (i.e., work) taken seriously by most large universities is research, writing & publication in a very limited set of peer-reviewed journals. The result: teaching is a minor part of work and the vast majority of professors' time and energy is devoted to those other kinds of work - unless, of course, they want to forgo promotion and salary increases (not to mention other kinds of perks) by focusing on teaching instead.

Second, what deserves comment is the failure of the article to discuss the consequences for those who did not, or could not, accept the buyouts at UT Austin and Texas A&M: speedup! All those students who were shuffled into remaining sections added work for the professors teaching them - for no additional income you may be sure.

Third, what also deserves comment is the casual way the article ignores the absurdity of classes made up of hundreds of students (swollen by those reshuffled into them). The very existence of such classes demonstrates how little importance these (and many other) research universities give to real teaching. Giant lecture courses are a cruel joke on students as they render any effort on the part of professors to actually help students learn largely futile - there being no way even the most carefully crafted lecture can meet the diverse intellectual needs of the vast majority of students listening. What Nietzsche wrote in 1872 sadly still holds: "One speaking mouth, with many ears, and half as many writing hands -- there you have to all appearances, the external academical apparatus; the university engine of culture set in motion."

9. henr1055 - January 04, 2011 at 11:53 am

CHE should have a meeting with AAUP to find out what tenure is all about. When I was a university student in 1967 I had a professor take off for a couple of weeks to join a protest in Northern California. He said to read some chapters and there would be a test when he returned. Same thing happened in 1978 or 79 in grad school a professor cut out to protest 3 mile island came back and gave a test. Those days are gone CHE. You cant just do what you want.

Being in a small private university in the state of Governor Goodhair I am looking forward to: the increases in public university tuition, the wannabee regional institutions trying to be R-1s by requiring faculty teaching 4 classes to perform the same research as faculty at the Flagship campuses. These regional institutions have spent millions of dollars on Football and the associated RAW RAW, they enslave their graduate students with 25 hours a week of teaching labs and their classes will continue to grow in size until they have to use the Football stadium for large sections

Governor Goodhair is an embarrassment to Texas A&M where he was in the Nixon Youth but did earn a commission in ROTC. Gov. Goodhair thinks only middle class homeowners should have to pay taxes and the rest of the economic segments get a bye.

10. alexmcintosh44 - January 04, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Reading and writing about my research is not a scam; its called keeping my courses current. I spent more time preparing for my classes each week than I do actually teaching them. I devote my Christmas holiday and unpaid summer to these activities as well. I owe no one, including 'the good people of Texas, an apology.

11. dyspeptic - January 04, 2011 at 12:54 pm

To hmcleaver and Alex McIntosh:
Ooooohhh...neither of you saw the snark in my post, which I had thought was anything but subtle.
In fact, what is all too typical is the suspicion in which university faculty are held by the general public; and the datum provided by Ms. Mangan that the latter's email was sent from France can only serve to confirm the scamminess in their eyes.
As a university professor myself who values and works hard at teaching, I am fully simpatico with both of you.
Lighten up. Jeez.

12. prof_truthteller - January 04, 2011 at 04:52 pm

I am always amazed at higher education administation's penchant for the easy way out. I really wonder what they do, these VP's, Provosts, Chancellors and Lord High Pooh-Bahs. All they can think of to save money is to cut faculty, increase class size, and increase reliance on contingent part time faculty.

13. fortysomethingprof - January 04, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Great to read that they're buying out faculty in Texas just as gas prices are soaring.

14. travis6 - January 05, 2011 at 01:00 am

The most ironic--indeed, hypocritical--aspect of this debacle is that Texas is an enormously wealthy state and could easily make up the $20-25 billion shortfall by instituting an income tax. Many businesses and individuals in Texas make billions of dollars a year in profits that is not taxed adequately to support society in Texas. This is especially true for the state's energy industries and owners. But Texas doesn't tax this income: businesses very little and individuals not at all. The result is that Texas is a low tax and low service state. Also a low education state.

The state's Republican leaders believe that keeping taxes very low on corporations and its most wealthy residents (working and middle class people pay high sales and property taxes) is more important than adequately funding K-12 and higher education. Higher education is hit very hard because it is more difficult to reduce the small amount of state money that goes to public schools. Texas in its non-wisdom is willing to sacrifice the education of its citizens in order to not tax coarporations and the super-rich too much. Parents wonder why their children get such poor educations in Texas. The reason should be obvious and the solution even simpler: vote the anti-intellectual Republican state leaders out of office.

15. gadget - January 05, 2011 at 10:15 am

I cannot believe the resentment toward faculty who qualify under a 93 year requirement for their buyouts. Usually that means they have been teaching for 35 or more years at a very grueling job.

Travis6 is right. The state of Texas taxes middle class and low income people so that the wealthy and large corporations can avoid taxes. George Bush greatly cut the taxes the extractive industries (oil and gas) pay, shifting even more of the burden onto homeowners and a huge sales tax. The state continues to decline--educational levels are dropping, for example. This means that future employment opportunities and pay are dropping as well. The Republicans gerrymandered districts so much that no one else can be elected. This when oil is $91 a barrel, and the pre-Bush era Texas would have been swimming in revenue.
Lifelong Texan

16. becauseisaidso - January 05, 2011 at 11:47 am

Adding to travis6: and one of the consequences of the Texas policies is the highest rate of executions and people on death row in the nation.

17. 11274135 - January 06, 2011 at 12:52 am

This is just another example of the general attempt to reduce the quality and security of jobs in the US. Tenured faculty have what must be considered "good" jobs. They have reasonable job security, which is to say only that they cannot be fired at whim or for light and transient causes. They have decent health and retirement benefits. And most tenured faculty report high job satisfaction (And this does not result from the popular but erronious belief that they don't do anything; undemanding jobs do not lead to job satisfaction; and most faculty work very hard.). It would seem that we would want to have more jobs like this, not fewer. But the tendency nowadays is to make people with such jobs the object of envy and hate to justify eliminating their "privilege" rather than to make more jobs satisfying and to empower more employees rather than employers.

18. jcisneros - January 06, 2011 at 11:47 am

What is most annoying about this whole early-retirement strategy as a cost cutting measure, is that salaries are a drop in the bucket to the bottom line. Administrators are perfectly willing to cut faculty, but are unwilling to delay or drop "big ticket" items. If salaries are at issue, then administrators need to step up and take pay freezes or face early termination. Senior administrators as a rule, earn more than professors but are their jobs endangered? Not bloody likely.

Projected savings of $18 million dollars will not make up for the shortfall in revenue generation created by faculty/staff reductions. Fewer sections of freshman surveys/required courses mean a further loss of revenue in the area of tuition. More Friedmanesque, free-market bull crap.

#17 is very close to the mark. The economy is being used as an excuse to reduce and eliminate tenure jobs to be replaced with contract faculty and lower paid, non-permanent jobs. I know several PhDs at UTSA who make $2500.00 per course and a maximum of ten course sections per year ($25,000 before taxes). They are worked like dogs, have no job security, and minimal benefits.



19. gloriawalker - January 10, 2011 at 02:17 am

This article is on the "elite faculty". In the 27 years I taught it would have been wonderful to have 2 classes in a term as full time. My load was 5 classes each semester plus other requirements. Nothing is the same in academics, corporate or any place.

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