ANNAPOLIS – Even as they voted to authorize university system furloughs, members of the Maryland Board of Regents said Friday they were concerned about disrupting student classes and affecting the quality of education on the state’s campuses.
The regents and university presidents also said they wanted to have as much flexibility as possible in the creation of the furlough plans.
Furloughs were ordered by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as a response to the growing economic crisis that has severely damaged the state’s budget. The university system is required to reduce its budget for fiscal year 2009 by almost $16 million.
“This is not a situation any of us bargained for, but it is the reality we face,” said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, when he addressed members of the board and university presidents at Bowie State University on Friday.
The board’s resolution authorizes Kirwan to work with institution presidents and to consult employee organizations, such as unions, to develop a furlough plan for the university system.
“I think we’re going to do whatever we can to put as much flexibility into this process as possible,” Kirwan said.
Federal regulations, however, require that salary reductions take place in the same pay period as the furloughs, said Michael J. Travieso, chief counsel of the Educational Affairs Division of the Office of the Attorney General. This regulation restricts the system from spreading out the salary reductions over several pay periods.
“It’s tying our hands in respect to what our flexibility is going to be,” said University of Maryland, College Park President C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr.
Mote recently sent out an e-mail to College Park faculty and staff explaining that the number of furlough days required of employees will range from one to five and will be determined based on salary. Employees with lower salaries will have fewer furlough days.
Some board members also noted the importance of minimizing the furloughs’ interference with student schedules.
“If our primary goal is to educate students and maintain quality then I can’t think of a better way to do that than not disrupting classes,” said student regent Joshua Michael, who proposed an amendment to the resolution that would have prohibited a reduction in class hours.
The motion was defeated in the interest of allowing presidents to have as much leeway as possible in the creation of their furlough plans. However, the disruption of classes should be a last resort and the plans should attempt to schedule furlough dates when students would be least affected, members of the board said.
“We’ll look at spring break and some other days and see what we can do,” said Towson University President Robert L. Caret. “I don’t think you’ll see them begin until after the first of the year.”
The board’s resolution stipulated that employees could not be required to work during the furloughs and that the furloughs would not cause employees to lose sick leave or annual leave and would not affect their pensions.