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Southern Miss' president announces budget cuts, layoffs

(The University of Southern Mississippi is announcing layoffs and budget cuts. Nearly two dozen employees' positions will be eliminated at the end of this year. Further details are in this statement to faculty and staff obtained by and FOX 23 News.)

Dear Colleagues,

The University of Southern Mississippi has made great progress in stabilizing our budget and building institutional financial reserves over the past four years. However, the amount of funding that USM receives from the state of Mississippi each year, or state appropriations, has decreased regularly during the same period, with the most significant decreases occurring over the past 18 months. Attached is a summary of recent appropriation reductions to Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL).

In addition, the IHL Board of Trustees recently adopted the attached Board Policy 713: Institutional Financial Sustainability. This new policy outlines the Board's financial expectations for all institutions regardless of the amount of state appropriations or other revenue generated each year. As such, all IHL institutions, including USM, are required to address three main areas: financial reserves; liquidity (days of cash on hand); and coverage of annual debt payments.

The University of Southern Mississippi must permanently reduce the budget by approximately $8 million, beginning in the current fiscal year. These reductions will allow us to address the most recent decreases in state appropriations; increase our amount of financial reserves; begin addressing the new requirements of Board Policy 713; adjust for anticipated increases in fixed costs; and plan ahead for another possible 2% reduction in state appropriations for the coming fiscal year.

In working with the academic deans and vice presidents, we have concluded that we will not be able to meet this target reduction amount without impacting our normal course of business, to include reducing travel, operating expenses, commodities, equipment and eliminating select unfilled positions; and, unfortunately, we must also reduce the number of employees, the most difficult action that must be taken. This decision was reached after careful deliberation and weighing all other options to bring expenditures in line with current revenue.

Our goal is to provide as much notice as possible for impacted employees. The employment reduction will occur among two broad categories. The first category includes 20 current staff employees whose positions will be eliminated December 31, 2017; those individuals have already been contacted. Attached is information regarding rights and continuing benefits that will be available to each of those staff members. The second category includes visiting or temporary employees whose positions will not continue after their current scheduled end dates.

While it is difficult to position ourselves for the evolving realities of today's higher education landscape, we do have the opportunity to be intentional and strategic about how we manage all types of institutional funding, to include education and general accounts, auxiliaries, repair and renovation funds, and designated funds, among others. Each piece of funding impacts our overall financial picture and our ability to comply with Board policy.

We continue to work hard to increase enrollment, and I am hopeful that state funding to public higher education will be restored. As these things come to fruition, we will be able to invest new resources into strategic areas of growth as determined by the University's Strategic Plan, the Academic Master Plan and current institutional priorities stemming from those bodies of work. Our ability to continue evaluating academic programs as we make strategic investments with limited resources will determine our long-term success, not only with regard to financial stability, but also with regard to meeting the education and research needs of our state.

We have found ourselves on both ends of a spectrum. As an institution, we have positive momentum in many areas of the enterprise -- and I am excited about that way forward. But on the other end of the spectrum, we must address these budgetary shortfalls, and that is never easy to do. From my perspective, public higher education is transitioning in ways that many of us have never seen before, and at every turn, there are uncertainties that make it difficult to predict the future. As such, I cannot say to the University community that we will not be asked to do more or to do things differently; I am sharing the information I know today. We must remain committed to The University of Southern Mississippi; work hard at the recruitment of new students and the retention, progression and graduation of current students; be mindful of all of our expenditures; think about ways that we can be entrepreneurial; and think about ways that we can generate private giving to the University.

For more than 107 years, The University of Southern Mississippi has been faced with obstacles and challenges, and through each of those, we have persevered; we have found a way to come together; and we have continued to improve our reputation and status as a major research university. I am confident that even with this new set of challenges, our resolve as an institution will be unchanged, and we will harness the grit that fuels each of us to continue moving forward. I want you to know how much I appreciate each of you and how grateful I am for your hard work and dedication to this institution and to our students.

Sincerely, Rodney D. Bennett President



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