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Faculty Senate: Deficit discussion leaves bitter taste

About 60 senators gathered at last night's Faculty Senate meeting to discuss potential buyouts, focusing mainly on possible pitfalls associated with replacing employees who retire early or leave voluntarily.

Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit, Vice President for Finance and Administration Stephen Golding and Director of Benefits Greg Fialko took questions last night about a faculty buyout plan - the details of which were released yesterday afternoon.

About 1,119 OU employees, 700 faculty and 419 staff, are eligible for at least one of several early retirement or voluntary separation options, Fialko said.

If 20 to 22 percent of eligible faculty and staff participate, the plan will cost OU about $9.7 million up front, Golding said in an interview yesterday. OU expects to save $8.7 million annually as a result of the plan.

At the meeting, senators expressed dismay about how OU will replace faculty who accept a buyout.

OU would hire assistant professors to replace the faculty who would leave. The assistant professors would cost OU an estimated 25 percent less in salaries each year, according to last night's presentation.

"That is a very terrible statistic, and I think we should just be open about that ... about what has happened to salaries," said Judith Lee, a senator for the Scripps College of Communication. "I think the spread should be larger ... 20 years of learning knowledge and research should be worth more than 25 percent."

OU would prioritize faculty replacements, Benoit said.

"A lot of this has to do with what do we know about the units ... about their capacity for generating profits back into those units," Benoit said. "How do we put staffing back into the most critical areas as we move into this plan?"

Some of the options would also allow faculty to return and teach at OU, according to the plan.

"It may be the case that there are certain courses that may need to be taught," Benoit said. "The university may ask you (to come back) ... to teach this course."

In addition to concerns about faculty replacement and overcrowded courses, senators questioned health care options available through the State Teachers Retirement Association (STRS).

"We really encourage everyone to speak to the folks at STRS and take your time to make this decision. I encourage you to actually go there ... they'll explain to you the health care options," Fialko said.

Given unknowns about how many employees will actually participate in the early retirement and voluntary separation options, Steve Hays, a senator from the College of Arts and Sciences, expressed fear about how the plan would affect OU.

"I'm distressed that we're having to do this ... because it's so hit and miss, it's kind of like throwing a grenade out, and you're not sure quite who's going to be hit," Hays said.


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