Faculty, admin at odds over reason for NHTI cuts
NHTI faculty and top officials are at odds over the recent move to cut 14 teaching positions.
The Concord-based community college announced an expected $3 million budget shortfall and savings plan this week, less than a month before the school year begins. Eight faculty members met Wednesday afternoon to discuss their concerns with what they say is a top-heavy administration that continues to add positions while the burden to cut costs is placed on teachers and students.
The cuts are based largely on increases in payroll and health insurance costs, and declining enrollment, according to NHTI. Community College System of New Hampshire administration says it continues to realign to meet changing needs, a process that includes both cutting and adding to office staff across the statewide system.
“For colleges with positive enrollment trends, personnel reductions are not needed for budget reasons and would be counter to operational needs of growing enrollment,” said Shannon Reid, director of communications for CCSNH.
Faculty members rebut some of the claims, especially the contention that the 3-and 5-percent raises they received the last two years helped prompt the cuts. “We are here to use our experiences to give our students the best possible education,” said Laura Morgan, an accounting professor and president of the NHTI Faculty Forum, a group of professors that represents faculty interests. “To have a bloated administration that is making it more difficult to do is heartbreaking.”
After a long period of growth, NHTI enrollment since 2010 has been declining by 2 percent a year while enrollment grows across the entire system. Total student enrollment for fall 2013 was 5,079, down almost 5 percent from 2010. NHTI added 11 full-time positions in 2014 at a cost of $1.4 million, Reid said. The school has 113 full-time faculty members and 170 full-time staff members, in addition to 200 adjunct faculty and 80 part-time employees. Payroll and benefits account for more than 80 percent of NHTI’s $28.7 million operating budget.
“The declining enrollment and revenue, this additional staff expense, and higher benefit cost contributed to NHTI’s present budget shortfall and created an unsustainable cost structure,” Reid said in an email.
Members of the faculty group have major concerns.
They say the limited money is being spent to support administrative positions and activity, not academic programs. The cuts are diminishing the school’s ability to meet its own mission, they said. Also, the faculty feels it hasn’t been involved in the decision-making process.
“Decisions past, present and future are done with what we would say is extremely limited input, and I would say that input is ignored,” said Katty Dotter, a professor of psychology.
“We aren’t saying there aren’t fiscal challenges, but one would think we would not continue to increase positions in the chancellor’s office,” Dotter said.
Faculty also say the cuts were made in poor taste, coming so close to the beginning of the year. Department heads have been left scrambling trying to hire adjunct professors, most of whom have already accepted teaching positions for the school year.
“Most higher education institutions don’t work this way,” said Melanie Martel, Department Head for the Liberal Arts and General Studies program.
The reductions were necessary to align staffing with enrollment, Reid said.
“These actions were taken over the summer because that is the time that staffing and instructional needs are looked at for the upcoming academic year,” she said, “and significant budget work is being done by all the colleges and system office.”
The full-time faculty cuts will likely mean more adjunct professors. Last year, 77 percent of instructors in the community college system were adjuncts. A credit cap instituted last year limits the number of courses adjuncts can teach. They don’t have offices and, because of the low pay, can’t afford to stay on for years. This creates more turnover on a year-to-year basis.
“The students haven’t been involved in this, and they have been the losers,” said R. Stuart Wallace, a professor of history. “We have taken away from the classroom experience.”
The system office has added six positions in the last two years, Reid said, “to enable the system to meet federal requirements, address auditing responsibilities, assist with priority initiatives, and meet the demands of a statewide entity that has seen significant growth.”
The changes were needed because systemwide enrollment has doubled since 2000 and continues on an upward trajectory, Reid said.
In 2013, the community college system office laid off two full-time office positions, and in 2014 laid off one full-time office employee and left two full-time positions and a part-time position vacant, Reid said. In 2013, the total salary and benefits for the system office was $4.61 million, a number that increased to $5.24 million in 2014. The increase between the two years includes the new positions in 2014, pay raises instituted across the system and increases in benefit costs.
When layoff warnings were sent at the end of the semester, faculty at NHTI recommended the administration consider early retirement offers as an alternative to layoffs. While the number of faculty who will retire is unknown, Morgan said many would take an offer if it meant more people could keep their job.
Faculty members called the school’s comments about the recent pay raises “galling.”
In announcing the layoffs, NHTI said the raises were well deserved, but noted they added $1.8 million to the operating budget. The percentage raises were the first ones in more than four years, faculty said.
Faculty said they are still among the lowest-paid two-year college professors in the region. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which publishes the annual faculty salary survey of American Association of University of Professors, NHTI professors ranked in the bottom 10 percent of two-year institutions nationwide.
The 2012 report found full professors made $57,500 and associates made $49,400, putting them last among New England two-year colleges.
As an example of the spending, faculty pointed to a 2012 CCSNH meeting when raises for Chancellor Ross Gittell and college presidents were approved. Gittell received a $36,136 raise, bumping his salary to $244,504. At that time, the salary for NHTI’s president was approved at $141,876, which increased to $166,700 when a new president was named this year.
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IainWilsonCM)