The University of Georgia hired 73 new professors this fall to replenish the teaching ranks that dwindled because of budget cuts.
President Michael Adams announced in January that he was setting side $4 million for about 25 positions and related start-up costs, such as research labs. The other tenure- and tenure-track positions were hired using some of the $17.5 million raised from the higher tuition charged students and by filling some vacant positions, Provost Jere Morehead said this week.
While some students said the hires are positive sign after cutbacks such as trimming library hours and increasing class sizes, some lawmakers are questioning how UGA and other campuses can afford hiring now.
Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, who heads the committee that oversees the budgets of Georgia’s universities, plans to hold a hearing to examine the new spending.
"A year ago the sky was falling and now we’re staffing highly paid instructors again," Ehrhart said. "They were talking about having to cut 4-H if we cut their budget and now staffing is back up. This gives me great concern."
Last spring, UGA placed the popular 4-H program on a list of those that could be eliminated after lawmakers warned that the University System of Georgia could lose an additional $300 million because of the weak economy. While the additional cuts were not implemented, lawmakers have cut UGA's funding by nearly 20 percent over the past three years because of dwindling tax revenues caused by the recession.
Morehead said another hiring initiative is under way that would add another 25 positions. When that hiring is complete UGA will still be down about 100 faculty members compared to 2006 and 2007, he said.
"Our highest priority now is rebuilding our faculty ranks that were somewhat depleted because of the economic recession," Morehead said. "We can’t leave them vacant anymore. We’re leaving staff positions open and operating more efficiently to hire faculty."
UGA and other public colleges said their budgets are slightly better this year than last year because of the tuition increase that went into effect this fall. Students at UGA and other research-institutions saw tuition increase by $500, or about 16.5 percent for in-state rates. Many college leaders expect finances to worsen next year with the loss of federal stimulus money.
Morehead said the additional faculty will allow the university to "engage students and get them acquainted with research faculty." Next fall, tenure- and tenure-track faculty will be teaching seminars, with each capped at about 15 students, he said. The college would offer between 300 to 350 seminars.
"They’re really trying to make it work for students and we’re always happy to get more professors," said Joshua Delaney, president of the student body. "I’m cautiously optimistic that the money is there and that they won’t regret this if the economy worsens."
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com