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Retirements, resignations result of cutbacks and salary freeze

Business schools statewide suffer budget constraints

This fall, business professors at Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State will be doing a neat trick: teaching with one hand tied behind their backs.

“We just had a significant cut of $511,000 to our department,” said William Gunther, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Southern Mississippi, formerly at the University of Alabama. “That’s six faculty positions. Because faculty in business schools are in high demand, we’ve had seven resignations and three retirements. We’ve already cancelled 15 sections for fall.

“Can we absorb all those students in other classes? Probably not. So that means some students are not going to get served. It’s unfortunate, but I see no other way, short of having every class in the coliseum with no limit on size. It becomes a quality issue, and we are not going to sacrifice quality to become a school of 300,000 students with two teachers.”

But Robert Ingram, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi, said his department wasn’t hit as hard with budget cuts after the Mississippi Legislature passed a higher education appropriation in April calling for a reduction of 8.5% for state universities.

“In the economic development area, we are fortunate to generate much of our funding from external allies and projects that most university units are unable to do,” he said.

Since the ruling, the College Board voted to allow universities to raise tuition as much as 15%. To offset budget cuts, Ole Miss, USM and MSU have done just that. But it’s not enough. State revenues continue to decline and state officials have warned of the possibility of a budget cut up to 5% in October.

Sara Freedman, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business and Industry at Mississippi State University, formerly with the University of Houston, said her department has also lost faculty members to resignations and retirement.

“Some had already been replaced prior to the (hiring) freeze, but others won’t be,” she said. “We’re trying to juggle enrollment to take care of the student population as best we can. We are filling in with adjuncts and others to help out with the teacher load and are taking a look at how we do things to see if we can’t do them in a more efficient manner. But some classes may be larger as a result, and we may have some problems with students not getting the best possible schedule they would like in class offerings.”

Freedman said the business school is identifying priorities and striving to do the best possible job with limited resources.

“Our alumni have been supportive in the past and we appreciate it,” she said. “We anticipate they’ll recognize the need and step forward. That’s an important part of what we have to rely on to function nowadays.”

On July 1, the beginning of the 2002 fiscal year, Michael G. Harvey, former business school dean at the University of Oklahoma, will take over as dean of the University of Mississippi’s School of Business Administration. Fortunately for Harvey, budget cuts in that department were relatively mild.

Del Hawley, Ph.D., associate dean for administration in the School of Business Administration at Ole Miss, said the department received only a 1% permanent reduction, or roughly $60,000, in its operating budget, which includes travel-related expenses.

“The business school is in a little different position than the other schools because in the last five years, we’ve had a 40% increase in students with no increase in our operating budget or faculty,” he said.

Hawley said he doesn’t expect any layoffs. “We were surprised that we didn’t have resignations we could link directly to the fact there had been no raises in two years, with one exception, and that was for a faculty member who went to another university,” he said.

In anticipation of further budget cuts this fall, Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat required all departments to identify additional budget cuts, Hawley said.

“If we had to cut back another 1%, it would be disastrous,” he said.

Johnny Williams, vice chancellor for finance and administration for Ole Miss, said the university was able to offset the decrease in state appropriations as a result of 15% increases in in-state, out-of-state, undergraduate, graduate and pharmacy and law school tuition, private support, productivity of faculty and staff and an anticipated increase in enrollment.

“The productivity of our faculty and staff is very much a factor,” he said. “Although not built into our new budget, private support helps with travel, printing brochures and the like. It’s the same with contracts and grants. It helps when they enable faculty to pay for travel, hire students and buy equipment. We hope we don’t have to take another cut, but if we do, we want to be prepared.”

Pamela P. Smith, Ph.D., assistant commissioner for public affairs and development at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, said, “The business programs are high demand programs and therefore, our faculty in these programs are often lured away for higher salaries in states that can pay more. The universities have a major challenge in attracting and retaining faculty under these budget circumstances. They are doing an admirable job in this process, but there may be some positions left unfilled. We are confident that the legislature and the governor will help us address this problem in the days ahead.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

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