• August 28, 2015

U. of Southern Mississippi Plans to Cut Programs and 29 Faculty Jobs

With classes barely under way at the University of Southern Mississippi, officials at the institution are already preparing for a steep budget reduction for next year. They have notified 29 faculty members, about half of them tenured, that their jobs are on the line.

The job cuts are part of a proposal the university announced on Monday that would pare $15-million from its budget for the 2011-12 academic year. Among other things, the proposal calls for closing nearly two dozen academic programs.

The provost at Southern Mississippi, Robert Lyman, said in an interview on Tuesday that the institution had decided on the proposed cuts with a goal of "trying to preserve enrollment and services to students while trying to impact the smallest number of faculty."

The university had few other options, he said. "We've really entered an era in this country where there are severe constraints on public higher education."

All eight public universities in Mississippi have been asked by state higher-education officials to come up with plans to offset anticipated budget shortfalls next year, and Southern Mississippi is the first to make its proposal public.

The state coordinating board for higher education must approve the plan, and the programs targeted for elimination can appeal, but Mr. Lyman said the faculty members whose jobs would be eliminated were being notified now because state and institutional guidelines require that the university give a year's notice to tenured and tenure-track professors who are facing termination.

About 750 full-time faculty members work at the university.

"We've known for some time that we would be facing another deficit," said Anita Davis, who is president of the university's Faculty Senate and an associate professor of music education. "Personally, I don't ever want to see us in this position again. If there's any solace in this, it's that there are so many institutions across the country dealing with the recession in similar ways."

The 29 faculty members slated for termination would complete the current academic year. They are attached to the programs the university plans to eliminate—a mix of bachelor's and master's programs in fields that include recreation administration, German, Latin, and allied health. A complete list is available on the university's Web site.

The university's main campus, in Hattiesburg, with about 13,000 students, is slated to bear the brunt of the proposed cuts. Its College of Arts and Letters would lose 10 faculty members, the most of any of the institution's five colleges, to save the university $917,833. The university's Gulf Coast campus is scheduled to lose two programs and six professors. In addition, four programs that operate on both campuses would be consolidated.

Mr. Lyman said the program cuts were concentrated at Hattiesburg because the Gulf Coast operations are more research-oriented and "they have separate funding streams because of that."

In addition to cutting costs in academics, the university is also trimming academic and administrative support budgets, and will look for additional savings through campuswide initiatives such as early-retirement incentives and furloughs. The proposed faculty and program cuts add up to projected savings of about $3.8-million, while budget reductions on the academic and administrative support side total about $3.6-million. The campuswide initiatives, which aren't quite a done deal, are expected to save about $7.5-million.

"I think it's almost certain that we will implement the retirement incentive. I think that's something that we will probably announce in the coming months," Mr. Lyman said. "The issue of furloughs, though, is a much more complex one, particularly when it comes to faculty."

The university will make a decision on furloughs once it has a firm number on how much its state appropriations will drop next year and can gauge how much of that an increase in tuition will offset, he said.

At least one program has successfully appealed elimination in the past. Last year, the economics major at Southern Miss was on the chopping block, but professors managed to preserve the major in a last-minute deal.

Appeals can succeed, Mr. Lyman said, when the program can "show alternative ways of achieving the same budget reduction with the same or lesser impact on faculty members."


1. dscobb - September 01, 2010 at 09:29 am

Thought you would find this timely.


2. 12080243 - September 01, 2010 at 10:10 am

The following information was obtained from the University of Southern Mississippi by way of a Mississippi Open Records request. The University provided data about flights (dates, destinations, and passengers) and actual cash outflows related to an airplane (N777AQ) leased by President Martha Saunders during a recession with taxpayer and student dollars.

To date, the plane has been in service at USM for 17 months. Please bear in mind that the costs we report do not include any portion of the 60th payment to include a final balloon payment of $907,053.85. If this $900,000+ payment were allocated, the amounts here would be substantially greater.

USM identified 30 round trips during the 17 months which results in an actual cost of $19,707.72 per round trip flight of N777AQ ($591,231.71 total actual cost/30 trips--note that about half of the 30 trips are within the state of Mississippi). Another way to calculate the actual cost is to note that USM identified 114 passengers (some the same people on different flights, like President Saunders) over the 17 month period. The cost per passenger round trip flight would be $5,186.24 ($591,231.71 total actual cost/114 actual number of passengers).

Administrative cost cutting claptrap aside, this is a reality of President Saunders' behavior. Additional reports can be found on www.usmnews.net

Chauncey M. DePree, Jr., DBA
School of Accountancy
College of Business
University of Southern Mississippi

3. genyajane - September 01, 2010 at 10:57 am

Last Sunday on Face the Nation, Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi stated, "As far as talking about less money [from Washington], look, my budget this year in Mississippi is 13% less than it was two years ago. I cut spending 9.7% last year. Frankly, nobody much noticed the difference."

4. drangie - September 01, 2010 at 01:56 pm

I see that this aircraft, a 1979 Beechcraft 200, is registered to and owned by Foundation Aviation Holdings LLC in Hattiesburg. Is it the case in Mississippi, as it is in my state, that these foundations are made up private donor money, and not state, student or tuition money? Perhaps Professor DePree can clarify? (I hasten to add that I ask not as a means of justifying the expense--I only seek information to be better informed.)

5. 12080243 - September 01, 2010 at 02:14 pm

Please refer to #s 2 and 4 above. Thanks for the question, drangie. As a result of our MS Open Records request we obtained all contracts re airplane N777AQ. The contracts and cost reports from USM specify and show that USM pays USM Foundation for all costs related to the airplane. The actual cost reports we received and are reporting in www.usmnews.net are payments that have been made by USM to USM Foundation over the 17 months of USM's operation of the plane. Our habit, which we will follow in this case, is that we will provide the contracts and cost data we received on www.usmnews.net.


6. drangie - September 01, 2010 at 02:33 pm

Aha, that explains it! Thanks for the clarification. I understand your concern.

7. matthewsm - September 01, 2010 at 02:42 pm

Next stop: Feudalism.

8. ralphelton2 - September 01, 2010 at 03:43 pm

How much would it save to drop down a division or two in athletics?

9. 11207442 - September 01, 2010 at 06:29 pm

And lose significant alumni donations? How familiar are you with Mississippi? Football is big time here.

10. davidghebert - September 02, 2010 at 01:41 am

It was very troubling to see this article on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education today, especially the statement that “there are so many institutions across the country dealing with the recession in similar ways." It seems quite unusual that the jobs of tenured professors would be cut under any circumstances, which is surely why this article appears on the front page of the Chronicle. I am curious to see a list of the other institutions that are now eliminating tenured and tenure-track faculty, causing some USM administrators to conclude that this is a normal and acceptable practice during a budget shortfall. It appears that some at USM may be taking liberties to creatively redefine the meaning of tenure, and have convinced their colleagues that such a response is common in times of financial strain. It is disappointing to encounter the opinion that the institutional obligations associated with academic tenure may now be expendable, since this is surely the kind of situation in which both an unassailable solidarity and a firm commitment to transparent and ethical governance would better serve the interests of the profession and ultimately, the needs of our students. Surely any institution that is able to hire senior executives into newly created roles should also be capable of meeting its fundamental obligations to tenured and tenure-track faculty, and must expect to be held accountable by the public and the profession at large for making responsible, prudent decisions regarding its academic personnel. Failure to meet basic obligations to employees irreparably harms the reputation of an institution, leading to far greater financial losses over the long term, and should therefore be strategically avoided by any administration that genuinely cares about the long-term future of a university.

David Hebert

11. annon1234 - September 02, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I work at a Mississippi state school. Last year my job was changed to a visiting one. This year it was changed to part time- adjunct only 3 weeks before classes started (not enough time to get something else unfortunately). If they'd do something about administrative bloat that would help too. Compounding the situation is that unemployment compensation in this state is the lowest in the country. $235/week. A family of 2 qualifies for $241/mo in food stamps. I know. That is what I am living on plus the adjunct job (which decreases unemployment amounts).

12. gahnett - September 02, 2010 at 03:22 pm

I thought you couldn't be fired as a tenured prof. Wasn't there a report in the Chronicle about older profs not retiring, so they can't hire? If it's a problem, why not just ax them? ...not that I condone such a thing...

13. jampa - September 03, 2010 at 04:46 pm

Tthe situation at Southern Mississippi is unusual. Other Mississippi institutions are not responding similarly to similar budget realities. See the story in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper:

Whereas other institutions nationwide cut jobs only at last gasp and instead adopt things like furlough programs, USM let go people before adopting furloughs. In fact, USM cut tenured full professors before implementing furloughs. See the resistance of USM President Saunders to the idea of furloughs in the Hattiesburg American newspaper:

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