Budget cuts stall plan to hire additional college faculty

The state’s largest public college system has suspended its plans to hire 47 new faculty members after savings from a much-touted reorganization were used last week to help close the growing state budget deficit.

The budget chief for the system this week notified the 17 college presidents that, “Given the severity of the cuts we need to make, we are instituting a freeze on hiring of any and all full- time positions, effective immediately.”

A spokeswoman for the system said the hiring freeze for the newly-created positions instituted by the system office still has to be reviewed by the appointed Board of Regents for Higher Education.

The regents were planning on using the $5.5 million it saved from shedding administrative positions on faculty positions. However, the system’s budget was cut by $14.4 million last week by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to help close the state’s projected deficit for the current fiscal year.

When Malloy proposed merging the administrative functions of the state university and community college networks last year, he sold it to lawmakers as a way to direct more money to the classroom and hire more faculty. The governor and his point man on that consolidation, former regents’ system Executive Vice President Michael P. Meotti, promised the millions saved would be used to create dozens of new teaching jobs.

But the system’s chief financial officer instructed the college presidents Monday not to move forward with hiring the new positions the regents approved three months ago. People who have already been offered a position would not be affected, William Bowes wrote. A spokeswoman for the system, Colleen Flanagan Johnson, said she believes that only a few of the positions have been filled so far.

In Bowes letters to the 17 college presidents, he noted that the newly-created positions, “Also are subject to the hiring freeze. We will honor payments to those campuses that have completed the hiring process and made offers to candidates. For those campuses where searches are underway and no offer has yet been made, we require that you suspend searches until further notice.”

Rep. Roberta Willis, the chairman of legislature’s Higher Education Committee, said she is not happy by this decision.

“I was afraid something like that would happen. I am disappointed but not surprised,” the Salisbury Democrat said.

A spokesman for the Malloy administration said this decision is up to officials at the college system to make.

“The Board of Regents must determine for themselves the best path forward during these challenging financial times,” said Andrew Doba in a statement.

The share of full-time faculty at CSUS, the community colleges and the state’s online college has dropped nearly 10 percent between 2002 and 2010, the most recent year with available data, reports the Board of Regents.

The University of Connecticut, a separate governing system, raised tuition last year with the promise of hiring new faculty. The president of that system wrote faculty and staff last week to tell them that those new positions would not be affected by the $10.3 million cut to their system.

State finances have been troubled by increasing levels of red ink over the past month.

Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo certified a $415 million deficit this week, equal to about 2 percent of the general fund, which covers the bulk of operations in the overall $20.54 billion state budget for the current fiscal year.

The emergency budget cuts ordered by the governor effectively drive that shortfall down to $292 million. But that deficit still was sufficient to compel Malloy to craft a more detailed, deficit mitigation plan.

The General Assembly is tentatively scheduled to meet in special session at some point during the week of Dec. 17 to consider that plan, which is expected to be released next week.

Bowes wrote in his letters to the presidents asking them to prepare for more cuts.

“The revenue outlook for the state is not encouraging, and there are indications we will face more severe budget reductions as we head into the FY 2014-2015 biennium,” he wrote.

Willis said she is “worried and concerned” by the idea that more cuts may be headed for the colleges.

Malloy — speaking on national television on Chris Hayes’s show on MSNBC — said he believes the state’s colleges can handle the nearly $100 million cut they have incurred in the last two fiscal years. This 14 percent cut, he said, was blunted by use of the institution’s budget reserve funds.

Analysts for the legislature and executive branches have warned of a larger projected shortfall, between $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion, in spending for the 2013-14 fiscal year — a budget the governor must propose to legislators in early February.

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