Albion administrators have instituted a pay and hiring freeze for the next year. Faculty and staff will not receive raises, and any searches for tenure track faculty have stopped, according to president Donna Randall.
Both of these moves have been made with the intention of assisting the college’s budget in light of the current economy and shrinking enrollment, according to Susan Conner, provost.
Despite the intention of the moves, however, the administration is not estimating how much money this will save the college.
“The amount that is saved (from the pay freeze) would be calculated from the anticipated percentage increase,” Randall said. “As the size of the salary increase for faculty and staff varies each year, a firm dollar savings is hard to calculate.”
In terms of the hiring freeze, Conner said that the amount saved would depend on next year’s enrollment, and that an estimated dollar amount was not available.
Eight departments had ongoing tenure track searches for 10 positions when the decision was made to cancel the search for the 2009-2010 school year, according to Conner.
Conner explained that stopping the search for tenure-track faculty was not done at the expense of the academic programs.
“In a number of places, we continued searching for visiting faculty members so that our programs would not be affected in negative ways,” Conner explained. “On the other hand, we expect to have fewer first-year students in the fall, so we will not need as many sections of the introductory courses. In a number of cases, we did not go forward even with visiting positions.”
Seven of the 10 positions were offered visiting professorships in place of the tenure track; the other three have been postponed indefinitely.
Though there is not a large monetary savings gained by this move, Conner explained the financial benefits of hiring visiting faculty over tenure track.
“Specifically, there is very little difference in cost,” Conner said. “The advantage would be if there was such a severe downturn in the economy that we could no longer afford all the positions, then the college will not have made a multi-year commitment to that person. It allows for flexibility.”
Deborah Kanter, chair of the history department, said that the history department has been negatively affected by the freeze, however.
“We had recently gained a position in African history, and had a tenure track search that was cancelled,” Kanter said. “There hasn’t been any talk of filling the position on a part-time basis. There has been growing interest in African history, and there’s no place to take those courses anymore.”
Kanter said that the courses in African history were frequently taken by students in the ethnic studies and international studies programs, who choose their curriculum mostly from courses offered in other departments.
“We’re feeling like it’s a problem for our major (history),” Kanter said. “But it’s definitely a problem for international studies.”
Conner said that although she supports the idea of having African history taught at Albion, it was a position that had only been created six years ago, and the current economic situation forced her to make some tough decisions.
“I had to look at where we had added positions most recently, and how the department had handled things before that,” Conner said. “I certainly didn’t want to postpone the position in African history, but it was the most immediate thing (that I could do) without taking away what had been a strong department already.”
Mark Anthony Arceño, Southfield junior and African-focused international studies major, said he was “utterly shocked”at the college’s decision to leave that position unfilled.
“Before I left campus to study abroad for the year, it was clear to me that campus groups were sprouting and focusing on issues affecting the African continent and its peoples; interest in Africa was growing,”Arceño said. “When our history department no longer includes a (postion) that covers the African continent, it seems to me that we have taken a step backwards.”
The economics and management program also had to leave a position empty. Greg Saltzman, chair of the economics and management department, said that they had reached the final stage of their tenure track faculty search for a marketing position when they were informed the position was no longer being offered.
“We brought in three candidates (to campus)—one from New York, one from North Carolina, and one from Michigan.” Saltzman said. “It’s unfortunate that we paid for airfare for candidates and hotel and spent time interviewing them and ended up with nothing,”
According to Saltzman, the cost of bringing the candidates to campus was approximately
$2,000 and came out of the academic affairs budget.
Though Saltzman said that having the marketing position vacant will not require any restructuring of the major, he did emphasize that there are a number of the students in his department that take the marketing electives as part of their coursework. Those courses will not be available with the empty post.
Both Saltzman and Conner point to aggressive expansion done by former president Peter Mitchell as the underlying cause for the current hiring freeze.
In the fall of 2004, Mitchell added 14 tenure-track positions to the faculty across numerous departments. Saltzman, who was chair of the academic steering committee at the time, said that the decision was made based on “unrealistic expectations of enrollment” and was nnot thoroughly vetted.
“It was a financially unwise decision,” Saltzman said. “It was done without consulting the budgets, salaries and benefits committee, which I expressed that I did not think was a good idea. But they went ahead with the positions.”
Conner, who was not on campus at the time this decision was made, acknowledges that the vision behind the decision was great and that Mitchell indubitably thought he was acting for the best.
“It was at the same time that admissions was in the process of bringing in several large classes, so I’m sure that he (Mitchell) was looking at it like ‘Let’s be ready for all of these students,’” Conner said. “But certainly with the downturn in the economy now, it’s caused problems that no one saw coming.”
The faculty and staff salary freeze is effective for the upcoming academic year.
Saltzman and Kanter both expected the pay freeze to come, though Kanter said that it’s a little tough to take.
“We’ve had the sense for a couple years now that our pay is low, our benefit packages are not strong, so this was like another little punch,” Kanter said. “But it’s been explained to us very well by the president and the provost that the college is in an economic crisis.”
According to a survey done by the Council of Independent Colleges, 56 percent of colleges report freezing faculty salaries as one way that they are dealing with the effects of the nationwide recession. The same survey reports that 58 percent of colleges have frozen staff salaries.
Despite the national trend, Conner acknowledges that Albion is behind.
“Albion is going to have to catch up,” Conner said. “There is a commitment on the part of President Randall and me to work toward that.”
There is a faculty research group that is investigating faculty salaries, salary compression and comparison, Conner said. The group will be presenting its recommendations to the strategic planning committee and the board of trustees in May.
“We’ll at least be able to show where we stand and look at some benchmarks (at that point) with suggestions as to what would need to be done to place salaries at a more competitive rate,” Conner said.
The shrinking enrollment played a large part in this decision, Conner said.
“Each year, we have typically budgeted increases for faculty and staff in the spring, although we didn’t know student numbers until August,” Conner said. “We also assumed a reasonably stable total number of students on campus. This year we are actively projecting a smaller student body in total because of a large graduating class and a smaller entering class.”