July 23, 2014  

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Willis Discusses Impact of Cuts at Southern Miss Staff Council Meeting

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Universityof Southern Mississippiinterim Vice President for Administrative Affairs and Human Resources Director Russ Willis spoke about the impact of budget cuts on Southern Miss employees Tuesday at the regular monthly meeting of the university’s Staff Council.

Because of a decrease in state funding, the universitywas tasked with identifying approximately $15 million to trim from its budget for the 2011-2012 academic year. Unfortunately, that has necessitated the need to cut faculty and staff positions, Willis said.

“Letting personnel go is a painful move, and we are taking every measure to minimize the loss of faculty and staff,” he said.

University employees who are released are still eligible for certain benefits. Through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), employees who leave their job voluntarily or involuntarily can continue their health coverage for limited periods of time by paying the entire premium.

Willis said Southern Miss employees whose positions are terminated will also be eligible to receive the free tuition benefit for up to three semesters as a full time student following the elimination of their position.  Unemployment benefits, provided through the federal government, also provide financial support for up to approximately 52 weeks, he said.

Among other cost-saving measures being considered by the university include offering retirement incentive packages to those employees who are eligible to retire as of June 30, 2011.  The retirement incentive, however, must be approved by the Board of Trustees, and the university will be seeking its approval in October.

The incentive plan will include paying employees one-half of their annual gross salary either in one lump sum or possibly spread out over several years. Because the payment is taxable, Willis said the latter option may be more attractive to employees, but how the amount is dispersed would likely be the employee’s choice.

Positions left vacant due to retirement would have to remain unfilled for at least six months, after which time a request would have to be made for permission to refill the vacancy.

Furloughs, or unpaid leave, are alsobeing considered but only as a last resort, said Willis. If furloughs are implemented, personal leave, or paid time off (PTO) could not be used to offset the furlough.

Another initiative that has been approved is reallocation of indirect costs generated from research grants. Currently, 25 percent of indirect costs are allocated to the general fund. Beginning in fiscal year 2012, 40 percent of indirect costs will be allocated to the general fund. 

“We hope because of the steps we take, and with the potential for the national economy to improve, similar cuts will not have to be made in the coming years,” he said.