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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ABOR approves involuntary leave for UA staff

    UA employees could become victims of involuntary unpaid leave as early as mid-February.

    The Arizona Board of Regents declared a state of financial emergency for Arizona’s three public universities Tuesday. The decision approved the use of furloughs, involuntary leaves of absence, causing a stir of panic for some UA employees.

    “”Reaction to the budget cuts in general, and declaration of financial emergency, has been a huge source of worry and stress for UA faculty and staff,”” said Allison Vaillancourt, vice president of UA Human Resources. “”People are wondering if they should be looking for other jobs, and some excellent people have turned down offers to come to the U of A because they are worried about our financial situation.””

    The state of financial emergency declaration was a specific measure that includes only the approval of the use of furloughs, Regent David Martinez said.

    Although the UA is now cleared to use furloughs, such implementations would be a measure of last resort, UA President Robert Shelton told the Daily Wildcat.

    “”I’m not big on furloughs,”” Shelton said. “”These are used to buy time as (the universities) try to get better.””

    Furloughs are far from a certainty, though their use will be dependent on the state legislature’s budget decisions in mid-February, Shelton added.

    While there is no magic number that will decide whether or not the UA implements furloughs, approval of the universities’ $100 million cut as a counter-proposal to the state legislature’s original 40 percent cut proposal would allow the university to go about regular business without using involuntary, unpaid leaves.

    As the current financial status goes, it is a safe bet the legislature will approve a cut that will serve as a significant burden to Arizona’s three universities, Regent Fred DuVal said.

    “”There are a few options,”” DuVal said. The approval of the furloughs “”was felt to be the most responsible.””

    Other ways the board could have alleviated financial woes included cutting programs and campuses and enacting dramatic one-time fees, all options the Regents decided to leave on the back burner, DuVal added.

    While the approval of furloughs is only a temporary fix, it eases the pressure on universities to lay off employees, Martinez said.

    “”We are really looking at all the options to see which are the best to take,”” he said. “”These aren’t easy decisions.””

    University employees, aside from the administrators, are also getting in on the act, as, “”hundreds of people have written to members of the administration to suggest ideas to cut costs and preserve jobs,”” Vaillancourt said.

    Not all employees are facing the possibility of furloughs with fear, as some see involuntary leave as an effective way to cut costs while limiting eliminations and layoffs, Shelton said.

    The furloughs would not affect faculty who gain their income from research grants. Only employees receiving state funds would face a possible leave. About 6,000 employees are currently paid on state funds, Vaillancourt said.

    The UA and Northern Arizona University have no immediate plans to implement involuntary leaves, but Arizona State University President Michael Crow announced Wednesday the use of furloughs, encompassing all ASU employees.

    The furloughs will be staggered over different days and weeks so the university can continue running its day-to-day operations until June 30.

    Crow posted a message online to the ASU community Wednesday explaining the president’s decision, which will save the university $24 million for the 2009 fiscal year, he said.

    “”I want to assure all of you that ASU is committed to continuing to deliver all of our academic programs to our students, and that those completing their degrees can graduate on time,”” Crow said. “”We well understand that our state – and our nation – are struggling to cope with the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, and that we all need to do our share of budget cutting.””

    Shelton sent out a mass e-mail Wednesday to the UA community, stressing the need for a long-term strategy for the future of the UA.

    “”Furloughs are one option that was made available by the Regents,”” Shelton said. “”We hope to be able to avoid that approach … since the decisions that we make for this year will impact what we can or must do in the 2010 budget.””

    While there is no doubt that the volatility of the economy and budget crisis is devastating, the UA will continue to excel academically in the long-term future, Shelton added.

    “”This is an anxious time for our country. All of us have family, friends or neighbors impacted by the economic turmoil,”” he said. “”Regardless of the outcome of the budget deliberations, we are committed to maintain a world-class faculty and to strategically invest in those core areas of greatness that will propel the UA into the coming decades.””

    Arizona’s universities may soon find help from the federal government, as the U.S. House of Representatives approved an $819 billion economic stimulus package Wednesday.

    Arizona is expected to receive $1 billion for the 2009 fiscal year for such areas as education, childcare and Food Stamps administration, according to a release from the Democratic Caucus of the Arizona House of Representatives.

    “”Now the legislature is one step closer to solving the state budget crisis while ensuring protection for education and health care for children and middle-class families in Arizona,”” said House Democratic Leader David Lujan in the release.

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