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Plan Would Pay Northern Iowa Professors to Leave

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Plans to eliminate a wide range of academic programs at the University of Northern Iowa moved forward Monday despite growing protests from students, faculty and national education groups.

Meeting by teleconference, the Iowa Board of Regents voted 8-0 to approve a plan to give tenured professors whose programs are cut a year of salary plus other benefits in exchange for leaving the school's employment. UNI President Ben Allen said he soon would release plans to eliminate and merge programs with low graduation rates, and the faculty union says important fields of study such as physics, religion, philosophy and geography along with dozens of jobs are on the chopping block.

More than 260 professors packed a special all-faculty meeting Friday to approve resolutions of no-confidence in the leadership of Allen and Provost Gloria Gibson. Professors said they had not been consulted about cuts, which they worry will devastate the school's quality, and the American Association of University Professors echoed that point. The American Physical Society released a letter Monday urging the school to back off plans to cut physics, saying UNI has played a key role in educating physics teachers.

A group of about 10 students started a weeklong "study-in" protest Monday in the building housing Allen and Gibson's offices. While quietly reading books, protesters will hand out fliers urging others to contact regents, lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad. Graduate student Kelley Rouchka said she expected the crowd to grow, and some professors were expected to join in.

Allen, who has led UNI since 2006, told reporters the no-confidence vote reflected the passion professors have for UNI and a difference of opinion on how to make it better. He argues cuts are needed to eliminate inefficient programs and direct limited resources into other priorities. He picked up support from student government president Spencer Walrath and Branstad, who called the no-confidence vote disappointing at a news conference in Des Moines.

"I believe he deserves our respect and support during this time in which he's making tough decisions that I think will make a real difference for the quality of education at the University of Northern Iowa," Branstad said.

The regents approved the buyout program during a 10-minute meeting Monday after its details circulated over the weekend. The plan wasn't made public until shortly before the meeting.

"To be honest with you, these things are happening pretty quick," Board President Craig Lang said.

Employees interested in the buyout must apply by April 23 and leave UNI's employment by June 29. The program is open only to tenured faculty members whose programs are "identified for closure and/or restructuring." The administration can reject any application if the employee's departure would not be in the university's best interest.

In addition to one year's salary, departing employees would receive up to $2,000 in accrued sick leave and cash payments to cover health and dental insurance premiums for 18 months.

Board of Regents lawyer Tom Evans said the goal is to mitigate the need for layoffs. He noted a collective bargaining agreement with the faculty union requires the school to reduce its work force first through attrition.

Faculty union leader Cathy Desoto said the program would allow some professors to retire earlier than expected. She said the union was pushing for seniority rights to guide any layoffs.

UNI officials declined to estimate the savings, saying only they would accrue in the years after employees leave. Salaries average $64,000 for associate professors and $78,000 for full professors, and benefits can cost $15,000 annually.

Allen said he would not comment on the number of eligible employees until he meets with the Faculty Senate Monday and faculty union Tuesday. He is then expected to make final determinations on program cuts.

Allen first threw the campus into turmoil last month when he recommended closing Malcolm Price Laboratory School, which had long been operated by UNI's College of Education. Allen said the 350-student school was too expensive to run, and money would be better spent preparing teachers and conducting research through other programs. The regents approved the closure despite opposition from students, parents and employees.

A group hoping to keep the school open traveled to Des Moines on Monday to lobby lawmakers.

"This is just moving too fast," said David Deibler, a businessman whose 6-year-old son attends the school. "UNI is near and dear to all of our hearts, and I don't think the right decisions are being made."

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