Many headlines over the past few months have focused on the difficulties small, tuition-dependent colleges without significant endowments will have in emerging from COVID-19 closures intact. And it’s not as if there isn’t yet hard evidence to back up such predictions: layoffs and furloughs have become a common occurrence and a disconcerting topic of conversation for those in higher ed. As UB reported last month, Eastern Michigan University is even keeping a running list of budget cuts made at other higher ed institutions.
Leaders at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, which has been on a comeback journey since being on the brink of closure in early 2019, have seen how other institutions are ignoring shared governance practices so they can make rapid budget cuts. Hampshire is charting a different path—working collaboratively with faculty, staff and students to ensure a fiscally prudent budget for fiscal year 2021.
On May 23, administration and representatives from the college’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-HC) ratified a negotiated agreement that can ensure continuation of the college’s academic program while avoiding faculty layoffs and protecting working conditions.
The agreement includes:
- A temporary salary pool reduction for 2020-21. Senior faculty with higher salaries will receive larger percent and dollar cuts to help protect junior faculty, visiting faculty and faculty associates.
- A Voluntary Separation Plan (VSP). Faculty who decide to separate now can retain their affiliation with Hampshire.
- A commitment to reduce salaries of senior administrators. President Ed Wingenbach, who took a 50% reduction in pay for 2020-21, says the commitment was a way to approach shared problems in good faith.
- A further commitment to preserve faculty resources. Officials promise to protect resources for faculty research and professional development while also managing faculty workload, improving conditions for contingent faculty and prioritizing the assessment of the impact of actions on the de-diversification of the college.
This is the second year in which faculty have agreed to salary reductions, says Jennifer Bajorek, an associate professor of comparative literature and visual studies, who was on the negotiating team. “We were already acting collaboratively to save jobs and avoid layoffs before the pandemic. We have now taken this effort even further.”
In addition, many faculty of color and international faculty, who have traditionally been underrepresented at Hampshire, had already left the college before the pandemic.
Officials say the shared concessions keep the best interest of students as the focus and show the power of innovation in troubled times.
“I would advise administrators to view shared governance as a resource rather than an impediment,” says Wingenbach. “Colleges are communities of creative problem-solvers, and a budget crisis is best addressed with innovation.”
Imagination is possible when information is shared clearly and institutional leaders convey realistic targets, he adds. “Everyone is invested in the mission of the college, and if given the opportunity to advance that mission, good ideas emerge that would not have worked without that space to think together.”
Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.
UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.