Like other faculty and staff at Kansas University, I received an email from the provost this week outlining the new Voluntary Separation Incentive Program [“VSIP”]. Since I am not 62, I am not eligible for the program, but I read the description with great interest since it can have significant impact on the future of the university.
Basically, the VSIP is a program that will permit faculty and staff members who meet certain criteria (faculty must be 62 and have 10 years of service at KU, and staff must have 85 KPERS points and 10 years of service at KU) to be eligible to receive up to $100,000 or a full year’s salary, whichever is less, if they resign from the university by Dec. 31, 2012. Participation in the VSIP is not an entitlement. KU has the absolute right to decide who among the eligible faculty and staff will be able to participate.
If one looks at the eligibility requirements within the broader context of the university, certain aspects of the program become clear. The first notable fact is that, although $100,000 is a large amount of money, it is actually less than the average salary of a full professor at KU, according to the latest figures published by the Chronicle of Higher Education. That would suggest that the program will be most beneficial to faculty members who are not full professors, who teach in the less well-paid schools and colleges, or whose salaries are below the average in better-paid disciplines.
If one accepts that salaries are merit-based, as they are supposed to be under university guidelines, and that faculty in the arts and humanities tend to be paid less than those in the sciences, engineering and professional schools, then this suggests that the program is aimed primarily at faculty who, in administrators’ eyes, are less productive or less important to the university’s mission (this is not my view, by the way). In effect, the VSIP seems to be aimed not only at saving money for the university, but also freeing up university funds to be reinvested in faculty and disciplines currently deemed more important to KU.
If, in fact, the VSIP is designed to reallocate funds to hiring more “productive” faculty and faculty in fields deemed more important for the current university mission, it is quite a smart move by the university administration. Many of those who will participate in the program will be young enough to seek employment at other universities or start new careers in different fields. Given the current economic situation, a large lump sum payment may well convince faculty and staff to retire now rather than wait until the economy is stronger. Since participation in the program is entirely at the discretion of the university, faculty and staff who want to participate but whose continued employment is important to the university can be kept on in spite of their application to the VSIP.
For me the bottom line in judging the VSIP is that it is voluntary and offers faculty and staff a significant cash incentive to resign or retire. While one can certainly question the methods that will be adopted for reallocating funds among the schools and colleges, the fact is that such a reallocation is a necessary part of implementing the university’s strategic plan. When little or no new funding is available to the university, as is currently the case, reallocation becomes a necessity.
The alternative to this program could well be layoffs or a more stringent use of the post-tenure review process to force tenured faculty to leave KU. This is surely something that everyone wants to avoid. Given the continuing financial difficulties of the university, and its ongoing needs, the provost and the chancellor deserve praise for offering the VSIP and its incentive payments to eligible faculty and staff.