UI has cut more than 500 jobs in last 18 months

 

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URBANA — The employee count at the University of Illinois has dropped by more than 500 in the last 18 months, a response to the state's fiscal problems, officials said Wednesday.

President Tim Killeen released what he called an "interim report" on budget-cutting efforts, showing that 484 non-instructional staff positions have been cut since February 2015, a 3 percent drop.

Most of the reductions have come through attrition, and 202 positions, or 41 percent, were in university administration at the system level. That represents a 17 percent cut, from 1,211 university administration employees in February 2015 to 1,009 last month, Killeen said.

The three campuses in Urbana, Chicago and Springfield lost more than 282 full-time-equivalent staff positions over the same time period — including 192 at the Urbana campus.

Non-instructional staff includes academic-professional and civil-service employees at the three campuses and university administration. UI hospital workers are excluded.

A breakdown of the cuts by job category was not available.

In fact, the numbers aren't a count of specific positions cut but rather a net reduction comparing employment counts at two points in time — February 2015 and September 2016.

Eventually, those cuts could save the UI $1.5 million a month, or $18 million a year, but costs related to vacation, sick time and other payouts could delay savings, spokesman Tom Hardy said.

The losses aren't as steep on the academic side. The number of tenure-system faculty has risen by 20 since February 2015, though the university has 73 fewer nontenured faculty, according to those employment reports. The Urbana campus gained two tenured positions and lost 47 non-tenure-track positions.

Killeen said the university has tried to protect the UI's academic mission and save money on the administrative side.

Earlier this year, the Urbana campus issued notices to civil-service staff members warning of potential layoffs. But union officials said Wednesday that actual layoffs have been limited.

Some positions were eliminated, but employees were "bumped" into other jobs or decided to retire, said David Beck of AFSCME Council 31, who works with two unions representing clerical and technical staff on campus. He wasn't sure how many employees were affected.

"There were no layoffs in our bargaining units," Beck said, though there could have been for other unions or nonunion office managerial staff.

Killeen said he felt it was important to provide a public update on steps the UI has taken to improve efficiency "so people could see what's been done and how we go about it."

"It's still a work in progress. The budget impasse has still not been resolved," Killeen said.

The UI system's annual operating budget is $5.6 billion. It received roughly a quarter to half of its usual $650 million in state funding for fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017, which started July 1.

It has frozen salaries for almost all employees for the past two years. Each 1 percent of a general pay increase costs the UI system $24 million annually.

While it's not a "hard freeze," hiring has been "very constrained" since July 2015 because of state-funding problems, Killeen said. He said the UI has tried to consolidate positions where it makes sense — filling one of two jobs when people retire, rather than both, for instance.

He said there's no ultimate job-cutting target, but the effort is ongoing.

The university will also keep up the drumbeat in Springfield for full funding, he said, "particularly leading up to the veto session and post-election activities" when action on the budget is anticipated.

"We're doing more for less right now, but we can do an even better job, and reach even greater heights with predictability in state funding," he said.

The UI saved another $18 million in utility costs and debt refinancing this past year, officials said. Energy conservation measures and moderate weather conditions resulted in $14 million in utility savings for fiscal 2016. The UI also saved nearly $4 million by refinancing some of the bond debt it uses to fund campus projects, taking advantage of low interest rates and a strong credit rating.

Killeen noted that enrollment has continued to grow as staff numbers have dropped. A record 77,074 on-campus students were enrolled across the three campuses this year, up 3.4 percent. Total enrollment tops 81,000.

"Our faculty and staff have done a really wonderful job without a lot of explicit rewards," he said.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).