UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH ALABAMA — Alabama universities claimed victory June 29 after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that higher education could not be prorated at a higher rate than K-12, meaning the expected cut of state funds by 11.17 percent has been reduced to 3.76 percent.
University of South Alabama president Gordon Moulton said the ruling is important in that it sets a legal precedence for the future.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for our state because it upholds the principle that all levels of public education are equally important to Alabama’s future and that education should be kept within the financial reach of every Alabamian,” he said.
The lawsuit resulted from higher education leaders who questioned the Legislature’s decision to prorate colleges and universities at a higher rate to make up for what would not be prorated from K-12.
The ruling makes proration equal across the board for state education, making USA proration 6.2 percent, a budget cut of $5.2 million for this year. The rate of proration will further be reduced with $2.04 million from a state education bond, bringing the year’s total cut to $3.16 million, or 3.75 percent.
However, despite being very pleased with the ruling, USA director of public relations, Keith Ayers, said the university is not out of the woods yet.
“We’re still having proration, and we’ll certainly have to monitor it very closely,” Ayers said.
Moulton said it could be September or October until USA receives the bond money, which by law has to be spent on capital needs (such as building costs) or paying off existing principle debt. Moulton said the bond money will free up funds that would have gone toward building cost. He also said he is considering asking to board of trustees to allot some of the bond money to cover the shortfall on library construction.
Unfortunately, the funds come too late to restore cuts that have already been made for this year.
“There’s not a lot we can do to put the pieces back together this late in the year,” Moulton said.
One area that will see changes is faculty workload. In February, when Gov. Siegelman announced the state was in proration, some faculty members were assigned to teach extra classes, limiting time for research, and many positions were frozen.
Faculty Senate chair Dan Rogers said some faculty members are worried that, despite the reduced proration, many positions would remain unfilled to simply save money.
“A lot of faculty are concerned that faculty workload was being reconceptualized before proration,” Rogers said.
However, Moulton said while some positions will remain frozen, every effort will be made to fill critical positions, and he expects relief to those faculty members taking on extra classes.
“There are only a few faculty members that were actually teaching additional courses this year,” he said. “I suppose they’ll try to relax that by bringing in part-timers.”