Faculty and staff on short-term contracts will likely be the victims of cut backs as the college struggles to deal with a $2 million shortfall.
Details for a plan have not been worked out, but acting provost and dean of faculty John Brabson said, “When people’s contracts come up we may not renew them.”
The short-term contracts range in duration from three years to one semester. Brabson said the “hardest impact” of the cuts would be felt in these positions. Tenured faculty members will not be at risk for layoffs.
Ken Burke, professor of dramatic arts and film studies said the announcement of the cuts at last Monday’s faculty meeting “was not news anyone wanted to hear.”
“The Mills leadership is in a difficult position with the financial constraints,” said Ellen Spertus, computer science professor.
Brabson said the cuts would be hard for everyone. “I know that a lot of faculty are feeling less secure about their positions at Mills,” he said.
Salaries make up approximately 60 percent of the budget, according to Brabson. Cutting them may be an effective way for Mills to make up for the downturn in revenue from the college’s endowment, which has been hit in the stock market’s downward slide. As a result,the endowment has fallen from a high of about $178 million to $129 million.
“The shortfall is really a small percentage of the budget, but since the cuts will be concentrated in one area it will be hard,” Brabson said.
The cut, requested by the board of trustees in their October meeting, will most likely be taken from salaries because the rest of the operating budget, money that the college uses for day to day expenses, is taken up by the “large variety of costs that go with operating the college,” like electricity and gas, said Brabson.
“We can’t tell PG&E that we are not going to pay our bill this month. They’d cut off our power,” he said.
Even though it is not yet clear which short contract positions will cut, students were saddened by the news.
“We have wonderful faculty and it will be a great loss to the students and the college in general,” said ASMC president Michele Roberts.
Administrators, deans and members of the faculty executive committee said they are sensitive to the need to balance the college’s academic excellence and financial aid with the new economic reality.
“We’re faced with a terrible decision,” Brabson said. “$8 million went to student financial aid this year, and we are very reluctant to cut that.” He also said the administration is “choosing, at present, not to have across the board pay cuts. We realize that faculty have obligations-mortgages and families.”
The small size of departments and staff at Mills means the changes will have great impact.
“There is nothing around here that is so over staffed that a cut won’t be felt,” Burke said. “Any reduction in anyone’s program will be quickly felt.”
Brabson said class offerings for the spring semester would not be changed because of the deficit and positions that the college is hiring for will remain open.
Spertus said that the computer science department would continue their search for a new faculty member.
The downturn means classes with small enrollment will most likely be cut in the future. “I am acting on behalf of the students,” said Brabson. In the circumstances “you wouldn’t want your hard earned tuition money going to a class with only a few people,” he said.
College revenue was also hit by a dip in donations. About 55 percent of the budget comes from student tuition, but the rest is generated by the endowments revenue, gifts to the college and gifts from the alumnae association.
“Gifts are harder for everyone in the world to get because they are in the same position that many colleges are in,” said Brabson.
Roberts said she hoped the downturn would remind students to help the college.
“This should inspire us to be supportive of the college while we are here,” she said. “It should inspire us to give back to the college when we graduate and to tell people what a wonderful college we have here.”
Before the downturn, Mills had one of the 200 largest endowments in the nation, Brabson said “We will need to create a path where we can close this in 2 years.”
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Mills endowment lost almost 7 percent of its value from June 2000 to June 2001 alone. The average college endowment decreased by 3.6 percent during the same time.
The restricted endowment, the principle investment the college is not allowed to spend, has gotten smaller and the revenue that investment generated for the college has shrunk in past two years as well.
The possible staff reduction comes on the heels of last May’s disappointing 3 percent faculty pay raise. At the time economics professor Roger Sparks, who acted as a negotiator for faculty, said he didn’t think it would keep salaries in step with inflation.
The college went with a lower cost of living adjustment than the 5 percent recommended by faculty.