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SOU cuts back costs

Facing a 20 percent reduction in state funding, Southern Oregon University will go to a four-day work week for part of the summer and trim faculty and staff pay, probably through unpaid furlough days.

Shutting down the university on Fridays during August and the first half of September will save up to $30,000 and, if successful, will be used for other low-attendance times, such as winter and spring breaks, said Craig Morris, vice president for finance and administration.

SOU is negotiating with the unions of both staff and faculty on how to avoid layoffs by using three options — unpaid furlough days, pay cuts or cost-sharing of benefits, meaning workers would pay part of their benefits. Morris said unpaid furlough days seem to be emerging as the preferred option.

The unpaid furlough days would start for classified workers on July 1 and for faculty at the start of the school year in September, he said.

In a letter to staff and faculty Tuesday, SOU President Mary Cullinan said the school will shut down on Fridays in August and early September, putting all employees on a four-day week during that time. Employees would work 10-hour days, so would not face a pay cut over the reduction in days.

The conservation plan was worked out by the SOU Financial Strategies Task Force and used as a model of a similar plan at Rogue Community College, which closes 10 Fridays in summer and five days during winter break, said Morris.

The campus has no students attending class in the last half of August and first half of September, said SOU spokesman Jim Beaver — and considerable energy savings can be realized by not using air conditioning on Fridays in that period, one of the hottest times of the year.

The winter reduction in heating use likewise would come at one of the coldest periods of the year, when demand for heating is highest.

During the four-day weeks, Mondays through Thursdays, the campus will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., so the very early and very late hours will not place as much demand on the air-conditioning system, said Beaver.

The campus will be shut down on six Fridays — Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28 and Sept. 4 and 11. Many summer term classes go through Aug. 15, but faculty members were instructed, if they need a building open, to arrange it with their division vice president.

Aug. 14 is Raider Registration Day and staff were told to keep necessary buildings open and make it "a positive experience."

Switching to a four-day, 10-hour system at low-use times would give staff and faculty "some well-deserved three-day weekends," Beaver said, noting, "Personally, I'm looking forward to the three-day weekends in August, for vacations."

Employees who find it a hardship to work more than the eight-hour day were told that, with approval of their supervisor, they may use accrued vacation leave, other accrued leave (excluding sick leave), or leave without pay.

Morris said while the "overwhelming majority" of employees welcomed three-day weekends in the summer, the pay reductions will be "much more impactful."

The exact nature of the state cuts to SOU will be known later this month, when the legislature is expected to wrap up its budget-writing and adjourn.

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