Many professors at ASU are volunteering for pay cuts this semester to avoid missing classes and office hours as part of the university-mandated furloughs. The state's three public universities must collectively cut $142 million from their budgets for the remaining five months of this fiscal year.
Arizona State University plans to save $24 million of its roughly $53 million share by furloughing all 12,000 of its employees for at least 10 days, with top administrators taking off 15 days without pay.
Lawmakers approved the higher education spending reduction to help close a $1.6 billion budget shortfall this fiscal year. Another projected $1.4 billion deficit awaits the state Legislature next budget year, likely necessitating further university cuts.
ASU officials have dictated that the off-days must not disrupt class schedules, meaning that professors cannot be on furlough any day they have a class.
"Everything we've done so far is to protect that" instruction, said Virgil Renzulli, an ASU spokesman. "But people are scrambling to figure out how to keep things going."
Increasingly, professors are choosing the university's pay reduction program, which simply cuts their pay up to 10 percent and alleviates them of the need to take furlough days. Professors can then keep their normal work schedules.
"A lot of faculty are doing that," said Pat Kenney, chairman of ASU's political science department.
Exactly how many remains unknown. Elizabeth Capaldi, ASU's provost, said faculty members have another three weeks, until Feb. 27, to sign up for the program.
Chell Roberts, chairman of the engineering department at the ASU Polytechnic campus, said 80 percent of his instructors are opting for pay reductions over furloughs.
ASU is counting on that kind of commitment from the faculty.
"These are people who work late and then come in Saturdays even though they don't get paid for it," Renzulli said.
ASU professors initiated the salary reduction idea late last year, said Joe Comfort, a physics professor and incoming president of the Academic Senate.
"Faculty realized, I have a class, I'm going to teach the class, it's going to be hard to decide the particular days that I'm not going to be on campus," Comfort said.
Furloughs can be scheduled so that they don't impact class schedules. But then the off-days are more likely to interfere with office hours for students and department planning meetings, Roberts said.
Initially, the idea was entertained as a way to prevent further layoffs.
"The hope certainly is that the issues that the universities are facing are temporary and that you really don't want to fire people that are very core to your mission, whether its teaching or even research staff," Comfort said. "It's much harder to try to rebuild than to try to keep them around in some form."
The furloughs are only scheduled for this semester. However, such budget-cutting measures could be necessary next school year if the state's financial condition remains weak, or worsens.
"There are a lot of unknowns at this point," Comfort said.