LINCOLN — University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman announced a budget-cutting plan Thursday that includes eliminating the state’s only industrial engineering degree program — a move that students and professors called short sighted.
“None of the reductions are easy; none of them will make the university any better,” Perlman said.
He announced $5 million in proposed budget cuts for the coming academic year, including closing the Industrial and Management Systems Engineering Department in the College of Engineering.
About 100 undergraduate and master’s degree students currently are enrolled in the program, representing about 3 percent of the engineering college’s total enrollment of about 3,200.
“Although we don’t have — and never have had — large numbers of students, this state is in desperate need of industrialization,” said Professor David J. Cochran, an ergonomics specialist who is retiring this year after 38 years with the department. “I understand this is a very difficult decision, but I am very unhappy with it.”
No other college in Nebraska offers industrial engineering, Cochran said.
Students Ben Wademan of Blue Hill and Blake Ritter of Columbus, both seniors graduating in December, said they and other current students have been assured they will be able to finish their degrees.
They said they expect little trouble landing jobs upon graduation.
“If you go to the university’s job page, there are a lot of opportunities for industrial engineering,” Wademan said. “It seems contradictory. There’s a demand, yet we’re getting rid of the supply.”
The proposed cuts were selected with the intent of doing the “least damage” to students and Nebraska’s economic development, Perlman said.
He warned that more cuts are likely. The Legislature and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents have yet to finalize next year’s NU budget. Depending upon the amounts set for faculty pay raises and for tuition rates, UNL could face another $5 million to $10 million in cuts later this year.
A total of four academic programs, the largest of them industrial engineering, are on the chopping block.
The biggest share of the savings — $1.2 million — would come from the elimination of 14 faculty positions left vacant by professors who accepted tenure buy-outs to retire this year.
A total of 78 professors took the voluntary buy-out, Perlman said. They will be paid a total of about $6 million next year under an agreement to pay them one year additional salary in return for relinquishing their tenure.
Perlman said that although UNL will have to come up with that extra $6 million on a one-time basis, the program will result in long-term costs savings.
At least three of the bought-out professors, including Cochran, work in the industrial engineering department, although Perlman said that was not the reason the department was selected for closure.
The engineering change would save an estimated $98,000 a year by eliminating the departmental structure and one untenured faculty position.
The remaining three programs proposed for elimination — a training program for K-12 art teachers, a master’s degree in classics, and an organ music specialty — also have comparatively small numbers.
About 20 students a year seek the art endorsement. Only one student currently is seeking a master’s degree in the classics, although students in other disciplines take graduate-level classics courses. And after a current student graduates in May, no one will be specializing in organ music at UNL, Perlman said.
The proposed cuts must be reviewed by UNL’s Academic Planning Committee before taking effect. They would apply to the 2011-12 budget year, which begins July 1.
The personnel reductions would include layoffs for four faculty and 1.8 full-time-equivalent staff. The remaining positions to be eliminated are vacant.
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