GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) – USM announced plans Monday to cope with an expected $15 million budget shortfall next year, a plan that includes faculty layoffs and program closures. At USM Gulf Park, six teaching positions and five degree programs are slated to either be eliminated or consolidated to Hattiesburg.
"My contract was terminated. I won't be back," Dr. Tom Payne said as he broke the news to his Criminal Justice students.
The tenured Associate Professor is one of six faculty members at USM Gulf Park who won't have a job next school year.
"I can appeal that and I plan to do that. I already have," said Dr. Payne.
"Whenever you're starting to cut out professors and it not only affects the professors themselves and their lives and their paychecks, but it affects the students as well," said USM Freshman Doyle Moran. "There are some students who are specific to one type of professor. They like taking classes from that specific professor."
The layoffs are part of a university-wide budget outline to save $15 million next academic year. USM President Dr. Martha Saunders released details of the proposed cuts on Monday.
In all, 29 faculty members have been notified that their contracts won't be renewed next year. Twenty programs are slated for deletion on the Hattiesburg campus.
Degree programs at Gulf Park are also targeted for elimination: Allied Health and Marine Science Bachelor's programs, as well as the Engineering Technology Master's program, and Education Specialist's program.
Gulf Coast programs that could be consolidated to the Hattiesburg campus are Political Science Master's program, and the undergraduate Paralegal Studies and Criminal Justice programs. Several students say moving classes to Hattiesburg would only create hardships.
"I'll try and get the classes together one day a week and travel up there one day a week, because it's a lot of money traveling from Biloxi to Hattiesburg," said USM Senior Brittany Harmon.
"If we're going to pursue our dreams and our goals, obviously, we're going to have to move to Hattiesburg. Go up there. So it's going to hard on a lot of students," said Moran.
And they wondered when the cuts will stop.
"The budget crisis could get worse and they could even cut further and further to where the campuses down here might not even be around after awhile," said Moran.
Another program that could be affected is the Masters of Business Administration program. It may be consolidated and moved from the Hattiesburg campus to Gulf Park.
Any program closures must be approved by the state College Board. USM is also considering furloughs for all employees and offering a retirement incentives program to help save money.