Monday, April 28, 2014

UAMS offering enhanced early retirement benefit to pare med school faculty

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 4:12 PM

click to enlarge 'NEED TO BE LEANER': UAMS Dean Richard Smith on College of Medicine early retirement offer.
  • 'NEED TO BE LEANER': UAMS Dean Richard Smith on College of Medicine early retirement offer.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences — to help, as College of Medicine Dean Richard Smith writes, with "current fiscal restraints' — is offering enhanced early retirement benefits to qualified tenured faculty members.

Faculty already qualify for an amount equal to a current year's pay for early retirement.  The new option, which must be claimed by May 15, is available to faculty with 15 years of service and at least 62 years old. It will pay 125 percent of a year's pay, plus an additional $15,000, payable over three years. Positions vacated under this plan will not be refilled. The benefit could be denied to faculty members whose departures are deemed "detrimental" to the program.

Participants can also keep
 UAMS parking and library privileges and membership in the campus fitness center, among other small perks. They also can choose to stay covered on UAMS health insurance.

Recent compilations show that 150 UAMS employees are paid more than $300,000. For someone making that amount in base pay, the additional benefit would be worth $90,000 payable in installments over three years, while the college saved the $300,000.

Dean Smith said about 80 people were covered by the offer and, if a quarter took advantage of it, UAMS would save about $14 million over four years. The offer began April 15 and there hasn't been a rush. The average age of those eligible is about 70.

The full-time faculty at UAMS College of Medicine numbers about 800. Smith went through the familiar list of things that have affected UAMS — federal budget cuts, a state budget cut, reductions in Medicaid, low insurance coverage in Arkansas and, significantly, a failure of continued growth in national research funding. The faculty grew rapidly in a time when federal research funding was doubling every five years, he said. But such growth no longer happens and the faculty remains in place. Now UAMS finds itself attempting to operate a major research institution on greatly reduced margins.

The medical faculty also has tenure. They can't be dismissed, though Smith said the school had for some time been moving to reduce pay for many still working, but not fulfilling expectations.

He said the early retirement incentive was an effort to provide a "soft landing" while encouraging some to retire, thus some of the perks offered in addition to cash payments.

Was the faculty too large if it can absorb 80 vacancies? "I don't know that we were fat, but I know we need to be leaner," Smith said.

The early retirement deal was approved by the UA president but must be approved by the UA Board in June to take effect. For that to happen, it will have to produce savings. Though the positions won't be filled, Smith said there's a possibility that some "mission critical" slots could be filled again if it could be done at a savings.

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