Hattiesburg, MS (WDAM) - The recession has hit hard and it hasn't skipped over Universities across the state.
Southern Miss officials, have had to make some hard decisions over the last year which unfortunately, will have an effect on faculty, staff and students. University President Martha Saunders touched on these trying times at Tuesday's fall convocation by stating that program eliminations and faculty layoffs are now a reality for Southern Miss.
"It was a very difficult decision, I think that for the past year we have spent a lot of time throwing in spare parts, we have surrendered everything, we had to spare all that was left."
With an anticipated $15 million shortfall in state funding Dr. Saunders announced 29 faculty members were being laid- off and 22 degree programs were being eliminated.
"If we continued to try to maintain programs that just simply cannot afford then the quality of the whole institution would be threatened. While it is unfortunate that we have had to act on eliminating programs we have also identified programs that are very strong and when money flows back and it will, we will redirect resources to strong programs."
In the meantime, Saunders said, there are more eliminations to come. Next on the list is staff positions.
"I think we will see a sprinkling of all areas of the University represented unfortunately."
Currently, Saunders said 200 University employees are eligible for retirement, pending board approval, and if early retirement is taken, it would help fill the budget gap.
"That's usually met with a real positive reception. We will provide retirement incentives but the board will have to approve it at it's October meeting. We hope to be able to provide that. If even half took us up on that offer that would make a big difference on how we are able to meet this budget and what we are able to do by the end of the year."
University leaders are hopeful these cuts will be deep enough and in the future USM will once again be on solid ground.
"The irony is, everything is up but the budget. Enrollment is up, graduation rates are up, retention is up, external research funding is up, the budget is down and that is what we are having to address."