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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published December 19 2010

MSUM offers early retirement incentives as part of budget solution

Minnesota State University Moorhead is offering faculty another round of early retirement incentives in preparation for an estimated $7.5 million cut in state funding.

President Edna Szymanski said some faculty will be replaced with new hires, but some positions will not be filled.

The incentives will be offered primarily to longtime faculty. Some administrators also will receive incentive offers.

“Of all of our employees, the faculty are the ones where there’s a pretty big spread between the salary someone retires at and the salary you hire at,” Szymanski said. “So you get savings right there.”

Szymanski’s goal is to save $1 million per year in salary and benefits through the early retirements.

MSUM junior Rachel Wassberg said students are concerned about the retirements because many faculty who will qualify for the incentives are students’ favorites because of their experience.

“They’re often the best advisers because they’ve been around for a long time,” said Wassberg, student senate secretary.

The number of retirements will depend on who accepts the incentives and the salaries required for their replacements.

MSUM has already reduced its permanent workforce by about 85 positions over the past three years through early retirements and attrition.

Some of those 85 jobs have been filled with adjunct faculty or fixed-term positions.

Wassberg, a mass communications major, said she hasn’t noticed much difference so far because MSUM covered those positions with adjunct faculty.

“But I don’t know how long they can continue cutting faculty and we still won’t notice the difference,” she said.

Faculty who accept this round of early retirements will retire in May or August, Szymanski said.

An academic affairs budget advisory committee will help Szymanski prioritize where to hire.

Szymanski said she doesn’t think the retirements will hurt MSUM’s reputation for having strong faculty.

“We have some wonderful faculty who we may lose to retirements,” Szymanski said. “But we also have some fantastic faculty who have just joined us in recent years.”

For previous rounds of early retirements, MSUM paid for the incentives using federal stimulus dollars. This time, MSUM will use carryover funds from fiscal year 2010 that were saved as a result of employees being conservative about spending, said Jean Hollaar, associate vice president of finance and administration.

MSUM is planning for a $7.5 million reduction in state funding for fiscal year 2012. The university has used the early retirement incentives to avoid laying off employees.

“I’m still guardedly optimistic that we can keep this thing from going sour with layoffs,” Szymanski said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590