Salem State offers buyouts

John Keenan

SALEM — Salem State University is offering voluntary buyouts to faculty, staff and administrators in an effort to cut $4.5 million in salary.

In a message to employees, President John Keenan said the cuts are necessary due to "demographic, economic and state funding trends." The goal is to eliminate about 50 positions, he said.

"Salem State must reduce the size of its workforce in order to ensure the strength of this institution for generations to come," Keenan wrote.

The buyouts, called the "voluntary separation incentive program," offer one year's salary for employees with 25 years or more of service and 80 percent of salary for people with 10 to 25 years. Workers must notify Salem State by July 15 if they want to be considered for the buyout. 

Unions representing Salem State's staff and administrators have agreed to the buyout offers, Keenan said. The Massachusetts State College Association, which represents faculty and librarians at all nine state colleges, is scheduled to vote next week.

James Gubbins, an assistant professor at Salem State who is president of the university's MSCA chapter, called the buyout offers "a great deal" for those in the right situation.

"If you've got 25 years or more, they'll give you a year of salary to walk away," he said. "For our senior faculty, they came in when the pay was not great. This will give them a nice incentive."

Gubbins said some faculty are concerned that approving the buyout program will give the administration a free hand in deciding where the cuts are made.

"If one department has four people with 25 years or more, the administration could allow one person or it could allow four," he said.

Keenan said in his letter that he informed employees of the buyout offer in open forums. The move comes as Salem State deals with the same pressures facing many colleges, including a declining number of college-age students. Keenan said Salem State's enrollment, which was 8,338 last fall, is down almost 1,800 students from a decade ago.

At the same time, state funding for Massachusetts state universities has also declined, he said.

"If you talk to the Class of 1968, they paid about $100 a year to go to school," Keenan said. "The state picked up all of it. Now the state picks up a third of the cost to attend Salem State."

Keenan said the school closed a $5 million budget gap last year through "very aggressive management," including eliminating 67 positions and reducing adjunct faculty by 25 percent. He said the budget gap this year was about $9 million.

Keenan said Salem State is a place for students of lesser means and from under-served communities to get an education, "and it is becoming more and more challenging for us to do that."

"We're really trying to position ourselves to make sure Salem State will be around for a long time so students in Salem, Lynn, Lawrence and all the Gateway cities around the North Shore are able to get an excellent and affordable education," he said. 

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or Staff writer Dustin Luca contributed to this story.