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NMSU trims 289 vacant positions

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University has cut 289 staff and faculty positions since implementing a soft hiring freeze in March as the school tries to tighten its belt in the face of falling enrollment.

Only vacant positions have been on the chopping block so far – an effort to help NMSU achieve the cost savings necessitated by a $9.1 million reduction in the university’s $690.5 million operating budget for fiscal 2016.

Many of the positions were slashed even before the results of a staffing study by Deloitte Consulting were presented last month. The study found NMSU administrative staff are “poorly organized” – bloated in some areas and underserved in others.

“This is an ongoing process,” said NMSU President and former Gov. Garrey Carruthers.

Earlier this month, UNM announced it planned to cut up to 100 vacant positions in response to enrollment declines.

UNM President Bob Frank told the regents that the cuts, which will include staff and faculty positions, reflect a “need to right-size ourselves and recognize that we will have slightly fewer students in the future.”

The hiring moratorium at NMSU hasn’t been absolute: 189 waivers have been granted since the March hiring moratorium took effect, including 48 faculty positions and 141 staff, NMSU said.

There is no set goal for staffing levels yet, but Carruthers said a number could result from an executive review of the results of the Deloitte study. In the meantime, he said, the hiring moratorium remains in effect indefinitely.

“What we really want to do, particularly in span of control, is develop a set of guidelines,” Carruthers said, which individual departments could use to organize themselves “in such a fashion that we can meet the criteria … that we are trying to achieve for the kinds of savings we are trying to achieve.”

“Span of control” refers to layers of management in an organization; for example, how many people each manager has under his or her purview.

NMSU staffing levels had already fallen 7 percent over five years to 4,005 positions in November 2014. The university had trimmed 298 positions from November 2010 when NMSU employed 4,303 people. The university does its staffing count each November.

“We have been actively managing the university’s operating budget for several years, and I think that is evident by the reduction in staffing numbers,” said Angela Throneberry, NMSU’s senior vice president for administration and finance.

Colleges statewide have been hit with lower enrollment. NMSU’s main campus saw its student body shrink 14 percent this fall to 15,490 students from peak enrollment in 2011 of 18,024. University revenue drops in step with enrollment.

UNM has seen enrollment slip 6 percent over the same period, to 27,354 students in fall 2015 from 29,056 students in fall 2011.

There has been some pushback from managers due to the reductions, Carruthers said, as some appeal decisions to close a position.

“Pushback shows its face when we say we’re going to wait on this or we turn them down,” he said. “We do occasionally get some kind of appeal. But what we do see happening is everybody realizes what we are trying to do. People are beginning now to rationalize what they are asking for.”