Pete Pepinsky


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AUBURN -- The closing of schools, colleges and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station. Large tuition increases. Extensive unpaid furloughs or layoffs of faculty and staff. Those are among the measures being considered by Auburn University if higher education is forced to absorb all of the funding cuts under proration of the state education budget.

The 6.2 percent proration ordered by Gov. Don Siegelman on Feb. 2 slices $12.8 million from Auburn's appropriation. But that cut would mushroom to 18.6 percent, or $38.6 million, if Montgomery Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey rules against higher education in a suit filed by elementary and secondary schools.

"We will not even consider an across-the board 18.6 percent cut," said Interim AU President William F. Walker. "That would bleed dry all the programs that have made Auburn one of the nation's top ranked public universities.

"If we are forced to deal with proration of this magnitude, we will be selective, but the impact of our decisions will be widely felt," Walker added. "And since our appropriation for the next fiscal year would be at the prorated amount, the long term effect is absolutely devastating.

"These measures are not what we wish to see happen, but we must be prepared. We must respond to what is happening in Montgomery."

Some of the measures being considered by Walker and other administrators include:

* Increasing tuition by as much as 40 percent for fall 2001. Currently, in-state students pay $3,050 and out-of-state students pay $9,150 for two semesters. A 40 percent increase would push in-state tuition to $4,270 and out-of-state tuition to $12,810.

* Closing the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, including its 15 research stations in the state.

* One-day-a-month unpaid leave for faculty and staff in the College of Veterinary Medicine, in addition to the elimination of vacant faculty and staff positions and termination of 12 current faculty and staff positions.

* Dismissal of about 20 non-tenured faculty and most of the 30 staff positions in the College of Education as of April 1.

* Elimination of the Landscape Architecture and Planning programs and the Department of Industrial Design, including the elimination of 12 faculty positions, all but one tenured.

* Ending spring semester classes in the College of Engineering on March 30 instead of the scheduled May 12.

* Furlough of 225 people in the College of Liberal Arts, including tenured faculty, canceling classes for 12,000 students.

"Auburn University's quality and core must be protected," Walker said. "We must depend on our state government for basic funding, and slashes of this magnitude cannot be accomplished by belt-tightening at an institution that already has punched holes all the way to the buckle."

Acting Provost John Pritchett emphasized that the adverse effects on students of the proration options would extend far beyond tuition increases.

"Increased class size, decreased course availability and access to faculty, less chance for students to graduate within the anticipated 4-5 years, limitations on career paths, to name just a few," Pritchett said. "We also must be greatly concerned by the potential for decrease in quality of instructional delivery and course content. In the biological sciences, for example, instructional labs are very costly. We could be faced with the decision to eliminate actual labs and lose a vital dimension of the academic experience."

Darwin Liverance, assistant vice president for administrative services, said that the university has not experienced furloughs or layoffs due to financial problems "of any magnitude," at least in recent decades.

"We privatized our health and food services, but in those situations, time was on our side," Liverance said. "We had a couple years to deal with the changes and we were able to place almost all employees involved. We have not been in a position to go into a full scale layoff procedure which could involve hundreds or more."

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