By Katherine Burgess
Union University President Dr. David Dockery’s Jan. 15 announcement of his transition from president to chancellor included the announcement of a hiring slowdown.
The university will still hire a dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, two business professors and a pharmacy professor to fill a retiring faculty member’s existing position.
Several other positions are not yet announced but likely to be opened and filled, said Dr. Gene Fant, executive vice president for academic administration.
More faculty members may be hired as people retire.
Other departments will have to hire acting, visiting or adjunct professors. As for staff, administration hopes to shuffle current employees into new roles, Fant said.
“Sometimes it is a straight replacement,” Fant said. “Sometimes we delete or shift some duties and essentially create a new job description for an existing employee.”
Budget decisions are about four weeks from being final.
Dockery said in an email interview that he is acting out of economic concerns and to allow the new president to mold the university.
Higher education is in “uncharted waters,” he pointed out, with Moody’s Investors Service, a credit rating agency, downgrading higher education.
“The budget realities for [Union] at this time, exactly 50 percent of the way through the year, indicate that we are doing well,” Dockery said in a memorandum to faculty and staff. “We operate, however, without much margin and it would not take much of a speed bump to redirect our course.”
While Union is financially healthy, caution is necessary, Fant said.
“We’re watching the economy,” Fant said. “We’re watching the region, watching higher education in general, and because we’re in a time of transition, all those things together just make us want to go slow [with hiring]. … Caution is always a risk, because sometimes you miss things through caution, but caution is often what ends up keeping you from overreaching.”
Union also is trying to project the smallest tuition and housing increases for undergraduate and graduate students of any year except the 2008 post-tornado year. This will create less revenue and fewer added positions.
“We are … seeking to be more careful in order to give the new president the best opportunity possible to flourish, to help the new president get off to a great start from day one and to give the new president the gift of making as many personnel decisions as possible that will impact and shape the next administration,” Dockery said.
The four positions to be filled this year, plus likely a few more, are less than the 18 hired last year. However, added programs and campuses — such as pharmacy and Hendersonville — increased the number of hires, Fant said.
For staff, part-time positions have been consolidated into fewer full-time ones, he said.
Administrators did not release a number for unfilled staff positions.
Communication Arts is one department affected. It is down two professors (public relations and theater) and its photojournalism professor, Jim Veneman, leaves after Spring 2013.
Dr. Web Drake, department chairman, said the department is looking at a visiting professor to fill at least one position, because a new president would probably not hire until the 2015-2016 school year.
A two-year wait creates a lack of continuity for current students who might have a different professor each year until graduation, Drake said.
“With losing a great leader comes pains,” Drake said. “And as an institution we’ll figure it out. … Will there be a drop off in number of classes offered in this department? Yes. But will there be a drop off in quality? No.”
The McAfee School of Business Administration will fill its two faculty openings because accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business depends on it, said Dr. Keith Absher, dean of the business school.
“When an area is up for accreditation, universities usually always make accommodations,” Absher said.
Dockery said leaving positions unfilled or uncreated is not for lack of support for any department.
“We [look at personnel requests] in light of student needs, program growth, advancing of the university mission, accreditation concerns and budget realities,” he said.