A Smaller Tulane

University announces layoffs -- including 65 tenured faculty members -- and eliminates engineering programs and halves athletic teams.
December 9, 2005

The flooding from Hurricane Katrina has receded, and the Tulane University that was left standing has decided to be a smaller institution.

On Thursday Tulane announced the cuts it is making in the face of $200 million in recovery costs and a projected budget shortfall next year.

The positions of 230 faculty members -- 65 of them tenured, and 180 of whom are in the medical school -- will be eliminated. Tulane is also cutting its athletic program from 16 teams down to 8. Five academic programs -- four in engineering, plus exercise and sport science -- will also go.

The professors whose jobs are being eliminated have the option of working at their salaries for one additional year, said Mike Strecker, a Tulane spokesman. But they will not receive additional payments and those who leave immediately will not be paid, he said.

University officials said that 86 percent of Tulane’s students will return to campus in January, and that applications for next academic year are coming in at a normal, pre-Katrina pace. Officials said they do not expect to significantly reduce the size of future undergraduate classes, but that all full-time faculty members will be required to teach undergraduates. Still, some faculty members thought that some of the remaining programs would have to shrink, but that the quality of education will remain, or even improve with the increased teaching for undergraduates from full-time faculty members.

While Tulane officials had few details about how the medical school would operate in the wake of the cuts, they said that it would focus on teaching and that the eliminated positions were research oriented. The medical school will remain in Texas for the spring semester. The medical school is in downtown New Orleans, and a dearth of patients in the area means slim pickings for clinicians. “We have tried to make the reductions as strategically and humanely as possible,” said President Scott S. Cowen in a statement.

The cuts will save Tulane $44 million from its $600 million-plus operating budget.

The university's School of Engineering will disappear immediately, taking with it programs in civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, and computer engineering. While the school will be gone, courses will be offered until June 2007.

Tulane officials said the cuts will help the university focus on areas where Tulane “has attained, or has the potential to achieve, world-class excellence,” according to a statement from the university. All of the cut programs had both undergraduate and graduate students. Tulane officials said that students in those programs who can complete their degree requirements by 2007 using classes from other programs can continue on. Otherwise, they will be allowed to choose a new major, or Tulane will help them find a new institution. The two engineering programs that escaped the axe, biomedical and chemical, will be moved into a new School of Science and Engineering.

To save administrative dollars, all full-time undergraduates, some of whom would have gone into separate colleges in the past, will enter the university through the new “Undergraduate College.”

In deciding on the changes, Tulane administrators solicited advice from a panel of 10 members of the Faculty Senate, past and present college administrators, and educational consultants. All of the proceedings were confidential until Thursday.

Tom Langston, chair of political science and one of the faculty member advisers, said that he was “generally pretty pleased with the changes,” considering the dire financial circumstances. Langston said that “the university simply could not sit back and hope for the best.” He added that the university had to take drastic measures if it wanted to avoid lowering its quality across the board to stay in business. Langston said that faculty members in his department were relieved to hear today that none of them would have to leave, and that the department would not be consolidated with another department.

The guidelines issued for institutions in “financial exigency” by the American Association of University Professors call for severance pay for one year for tenured faculty members who lose their jobs. Robert Kreiser, a senior program officer for academic freedom and tenure at AAUP, said that a year’s pay is a good way to give faculty members time to find new jobs. The year's pay for Tulane faculty members losing their job is on the condition that they continue to teach. He added that other New Orleans universities have given faculty members just two weeks notice and “ushered them off campus." Given the magnitude of the problems facing New Orleans colleges, he said he understood why they might not be able to follow the AAUP guidelines in full.

Kreiser also said that it’s important for an institution eliminating professors' jobs to involve faculty members in planning in such a situation.

Several faculty members who found out yesterday that they lost their jobs complained of having been in the dark. Timothy Pearman, an associate professor of psychology and neurology at the medical school wrote in an e-mail that only one-third of his salary comes from Tulane, and two-thirds comes from the for-profit company that owns the hospital and clinic space at Tulane’s medical center. He wrote that “as soon as the hurricane occurred [the company] promised all of its employees that their salaries would continue…They had a 'communication board' where faculty and staff could list their contact information.…Tulane did no such thing.They immediately cut the servers which provided e-mail, effectively crippling the channels of communication between faculty members, and colleagues outside of the university.”

Pearman wrote that he received a letter Wednesday notifying him of his termination “despite the fact that I had previously talked with our chairperson who agreed to have me continue on the faculty.”

One engineering professor in a department that was eliminated called the moves “an ugly surprise” and a “man-made catastrophe after Katrina.”

The sports teams that are being eliminated are men's and women's tennis, women's swimming, women's soccer, men's track and cross country, and men's and women's golf. The teams that will continue are: football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, women’s volleyball, and women’s track. The women's track program represents the university in three sports: indoor track, outdoor tack, and cross country.

The athletic changes will take place after this academic year.

Because Tulane will have fewer than the 16 teams required to remain in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I, the association has granted the institution a five-year exemption from the rule. 



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