University President David Burks announced a voluntary faculty retirement incentive at the Harding faculty meeting on Monday, Jan. 24, citing ongoing decreasing enrollment. His statement made at the meeting was emailed to faculty members on Tuesday. Affected faculty will be notified of their eligibility for the incentive by Monday, Jan. 31. Each faculty member will have 21 days to accept or decline the offer.
“You know our university enrollment has been decreasing for several years,” Burks said in the emailed statement. “We find ourselves in the unfortunate position of needing to reduce the number of faculty positions. We are hopeful that by doing this, we can more nearly reach the needed levels of faculty positions by a combination of this voluntary retirement incentive and normal attrition.”
Burks said the incentive will be offered to specific faculty members based on declining credit hours in particular departments. He said that while the number of credit hours generated by the University overall has decreased by 21.9% in the last six years, the number of faculty positions has only decreased by 7%.
“While the difference does not have to be exact, the current larger gap is not workable from a budget perspective, and we must narrow the gap between credit hours and faculty size,” Burks said.
Only faculty will be eligible to receive this incentive, not those that qualify as administrators or staff.
The University employed 303 faculty members as of fall 2020, according to the most recent data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. Dr. Marty Spears, provost and chief academic officer of the University, said that over the course of the next three years, the University seeks to cut total faculty by 30 people — a 10.1% decrease.
“This effort to right-size is not brand new,” Spears said. “This is something that, even over the last few years, as someone leaves, we have to more closely evaluate if they need to be replaced — if we can cover that need without hiring someone brand new. Sometimes you can shift people around, or change the way you’re doing things. So, all of that is really a comprehensive package. This is just one piece of it. We’re trying to use a retirement incentive over the next three years along with attrition. If we have openings, we’ll look closely at whether or not we need to fill them, or whether we can meet our needs some other way.”
In July 2020, the Christian Chronicle reported that the University cut 10 faculty/administrator positions and closed its North Little Rock campus, citing longer-term enrollment trends, as well as the pandemic.
“This new incentive offer, as well as continuing to evaluate the need to fill open positions, is our next step in right-sizing our faculty to current credit hours,” Burks said in the emailed statement.
Burks said that affected faculty will be contacted by their dean and offered a plan with two options. The first option offers the faculty member a one-time payment of 50% of their annual salary if they choose to retire at the end of the spring semester. The second option offers a phased retirement over the course of two years, with a reduced teaching schedule, while maintaining benefits.
Burks said that he is hopeful that part-time faculty contracts would be able to be offered to the entire faculty soon.
“Hopefully, faculty members will be able to request a reduced load with appropriate benefits,” Burks said.
Spears said that, in addition to the provost’s office, Burks, members of the president’s cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Tammy Hall, and human resources were involved in the conversation about the reduction of credit hours and the need to reduce faculty.
“Faculty are invaluable,” Spears said. “This is not about performance or anything like that, and it’s completely voluntary. As I look at the list of people that might be eligible, it’s an amazing group of men and women who have dedicated their life to Harding.”