Tulane University said Tuesday that it will offer buyouts and may have to lay off people to help close an annual budget deficit, aiming to cut 90 to 110 staff positions while sparing the school’s faculty.
The cut would amount to a bit less than 2 percent of Tulane’s nearly 5,800 employees. And it would save the university roughly $3 million, part of the school’s goal of closing a deficit that runs between $15 million and $20 million a year on an $850 million budget.
The rest of the necessary savings will come from trimming other operating costs and changes to overtime, sick leave and vacation policies, the university said.
The cuts were outlined in a letter university President Michael Fitts sent to staff and faculty Tuesday morning.
Spokesman Mike Strecker said later that the job cuts will not come from faculty but from among staff members not funded by grant money.
The faculty at Tulane makes up a little more than a third of the school’s overall workforce, which also includes administrative and clerical staff, non-faculty researchers and others.
Fitts, who was not available for comment, wrote that details about buyouts will be mailed to eligible employees by Oct. 21.
“It is not our intention to force valuable Tulane employees to apply for the Voluntary Separation Program,” Fitts wrote. “However, if we do not achieve the necessary dollars savings through the voluntary phase, we will likely have to consider additional measures such as non-voluntary layoffs.”
Tulane said in March that it had hired Chicago-based consultant Huron Education to help identify ways to reduce the deficit, which Fitts said at the time was simply a matter of the university spending more on campus projects than it took in.
Tulane has been running an annual cash deficit since Katrina, but news of the shortfall didn’t come to light until March. Some professors were upset they weren’t told about it sooner; Fitts said he was aware of it when he took over for his predecessor, Scott Cowen, in July 2014.
Private universities, like their public counterparts, have been under financial pressure in recent years. Loyola University recently announced an overhaul of its academic programs to save $10 million over the next five years in the face of budget deficits and declining enrollment. Last year, it offered buyouts, laid off 18 employees and instituted a hiring freeze.
Fitts said in March that Tulane’s issues were not as dire, and the university’s total enrollment figure for fall 2015 — 13,449 — is slightly above what it was the semester prior to Hurricane Katrina, when it was 13,214.
Tulane created two committees of administrators and faculty to work with Huron to identify ways to operate more efficiently and improve the school’s budgeting process.
Tuesday’s letter shed some light on the former, laying out seven areas that the university has already begun revamping to save money:
Procurement and travel management
Student housing utilization
Employee health care management
Renegotiation of energy contract
Student Health Center third-party billing
Admission and enrollment.
Changes to overtime, sick leave and vacation pay will take effect July 1, though, like the operating changes, it’s not clear how much of a dent that will put in the annual deficit.
The announcement included one piece of good news. Fitts said Tulane will fund 2 percent merit raises for staff, which will take effect Jan. 1.
He noted in his letter that Tulane is preparing an upcoming capital campaign — the largest in its history. He said in March that the university needed to have a balanced budget before it could begin soliciting for the campaign.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.