ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University students will spend 11 fewer days in class this school year after their teachers agreed to take unpaid furloughs to help shore up a more than $2 million cut in the 2009-10 budget.

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University students will spend 11 fewer days in class this school year after their teachers agreed to take unpaid furloughs to help shore up a more than $2 million cut in the 2009-10 budget.

The university and its faculty union reached an agreement Thursday to cut salaries by 5.6 percent through furloughed days.

SOU administrators are taking 12 furloughed days, representing a 4.6 percent pay cut, and classified staff accepted unpaid furloughs of four to eight days, depending on pay grade, school officials said. No one will get cost-of-living increases, they said.

Classes have been eliminated on the three days before Thanksgiving, making it a 10-day break, and winter and spring terms will be a week shorter. Final exams will be given Tuesday through Saturday the last week of the terms, said Sherry Ettlich, math department chairwoman and chief negotiator for the faculty union.

In addition, faculty members may increase their use of the "hybrid" — class time combined with the Internet — along with proctored quizzes and mid-term exams at the campus testing center, so they're not eating up class time, said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs.

"The intent is to ensure that students get from each class what they otherwise would," said Eldridge. "The faculty is committed to making that happen. "¦ The students won't be learning less."

Savings from furloughed days among faculty, administration and classified staff total about $700,000, he said.

SOU was allocated $16.7 million by the state for 2009-10, representing a 10.7 percent cut from last year's allocation of $18.8 million, said Craig Morris, SOU vice president of finance and administration.

Besides cutting salaries, SOU raised tuition an average 5.4 percent. And about a dozen staff members have been laid off, with some receiving notices in January and the rest last week, Morris said.

To achieve a balanced budget, said Ettlich, "we either had to lay off or furlough faculty. We did the furlough, so as not to reduce classes for students. We made a small reduction in seat time (class time), so it did not impact their progress toward what they need to graduate. The reduction in class time was zero to four hours per class."

SOU has long dealt with events that impact class time, such as snow days, noted Ettlich, and "we're doing the same thing, but now we have time to plan for it in advance."

Speaking for the Associated Students of SOU, Brianna Heath, communications director, questioned the idea that learning would not suffer with 11 fewer class days.

"It's something we're really working on with the faculty," Heath said. "It's difficult to do. If time comes out of classes, you're not going to be able to cover the same material. Some faculty are 'reading over' the material (meaning assigning readings of what won't get covered in class). They'll be assigning chapters on the three days off so students won't fall behind."

Asked about the belief of some students that the practice means more homework, Heath said, "yes, realistically, it means more work out of class."

Morris said the university could face more cuts if tax increases recently passed by the Oregon Legislature are recalled by voters.

"We're not quite out of the woods yet," Morris said.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.