With state-implemented salary increases for faculty members contributing to a budgetary crisis at Binghamton University, President Harvey Stenger announced a hiring hold in December to combat the financial issue — and an exemption process for departments to petition for hires.
The University has released information about the number of people who have been hired as a result of the exemption process during the first few months of the hiring freeze. In a quarterly report issued in late March, Stenger reported that approximately 345 hiring hold exemptions were granted from Dec. 1, 2018 to March 28, 2019, with the majority coming from student employee and staff exemptions. According to Stenger, the exemptions have enabled the University to continue its progress despite the financial challenges.
“These numbers represent a significant reduction in hiring compared to past winter months, and I appreciate the effort that department chairs and divisional leaders have given to helping the campus meet the current financial challenges,” Stenger wrote.
The salary increases causing BU’s budgetary difficulties come as a result of contract negotiations between the State University of New York (SUNY) and United University Professions (UUP), a higher education union for faculty, professional staff, contingent employees and retirees of the SUNY system. It mandated that SUNY staff will be granted a two-percent pay increase lasting retroactively from the 2016-17 academic year until July 2022. Despite the state-issued increase, New York state declined to provide coverage for the costs, leaving it to the University and other SUNY schools to manage the deficits.
The University has approached the financial challenges in a number of ways, including the hiring hold. In his report, Stenger thanked the faculty and staff who have been managing the effects of the hiring freeze.
“I recognize that this has put a burden on our departments and divisions, and I commend the faculty and staff who have stepped up to fill the holes that have resulted,” Stenger wrote.
Among the affected faculty members is Colleen Marshall, assistant to the chair of the history department, who was forced to cover a job vacancy for another department after the hold was put in place.
“I would say that mostly it’s affected us because we’ve had to fill in for another department who lost an employee due to first a maternity leave, then she decided not to come back,” Marshall said. “She wanted to stay home with the newborn child, and we’ve covered for that department since October due to the loss of that position and not being able to fill it until now. So they’re just now in the process.”
Marshall said she is also concerned about the hiring hold’s future effect on the history department.
“I am concerned about what might happen to us when we do or do not get any lines or positions going forward, because I think it can really affect our enrollment, especially because there was this whole push for the 20,000 students by 2020, so we are faced more and more with creating 100 and 200-level seats for incoming freshmen,” Marshall said. “If we don’t get the hires that we need, our enrollment is not going to be able to take care of the students that we have coming in the fall.”
Matthew Hollis, an adjunct lecturer of history and undergraduate advising assistant for the history department, said he is worried about the University’s ability to hire a sufficient number of teaching assistants for large lower-level courses.
“Are we getting affected by [the hiring hold]? I’m sure we are,” Hollis said. “We’ve always struggled with maintaining a balance between student demand and student seating and teaching assistants. But I also think that’s sort of a general trend in the humanities [obviously], but I have no doubt the hiring freeze has made it a little more difficult.”