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I received my contract for a tenure-track position at a state university in Texas. The contract contains the following: “It is understood that if due to financial necessity, the university implements furloughs for its employees, this position may be subject to the furlough”.

I am quitting a permanent position in another country for this job. But I was thinking that I had safety at least during the tenure-track period. Now I got very concerned because of all the dismissals in big techs and news about an economic recession in the US.

For other people who got tenure-track positions, did you have the same in your contracts? Any experiences with furloughs due to universities’ ‘financial necessity’? Suggestions about what to do?

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    The American Association of University Professors has an FAQ about "best practices" concerning dismissal for reasons of financial necessity. While the AAUP is an independent organization without much "teeth" other than censuring an institution, it does have significant moral clout among academics in the US. If this clause worries you, you might ask your contacts whether their definitions of "financial necessity" are the same as the AAUP's. Jan 10, 2023 at 14:23
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    A lot of these answers are geared towards high-tier/R1 universities. Is that the level you've been employed at? Actual furloughs (layoffs) become much more common as you go down the tiers, often due to research dollars becoming less of the budget.
    – user71659
    Jan 10, 2023 at 16:24
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    If the school is either part of UT or Texas A&M, then there's the Permanent University Fund to back it up (utimco.org/funds-managed/endowment-funds/…). That fund will level out a lot of potential "financial necessities". There's talk of including other state university systems in that endowment. Watch what happens in this pass of the legislature (the biennial session opened this week and runs till May)
    – Flydog57
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:46

2 Answers 2

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My institution, a US state university, has had at least two rounds of furlough while I was there (about 15 years).

One was due to state government austerity, the second was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In both cases, the institution avoided reductions in staff numbers for a rather modest decrease in salary (in the realm of 2% if I remember right, more for some senior administrators with higher salaries), coupled with reduced working hours (so, effectively some unpaid vacation).

Really, in the US you can almost always be dismissed for financial reasons without tenure, and in many places even with tenure. Tenure only protects you from firing for what you study. The bigger protection is that academics expect their jobs to be secure, so an institution that regularly dismissed their tenure track faculty would find difficulty recruiting. I'd say you're fairly safe under those terms, safer than almost any other job, unless you fail to make tenure.

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Well, in most universities in the U.S., public or private, whether or not they give explicit contracts, whether or not those contracts mention "financial exigency"... unless you are quasi-protected by a faculty union (unlikely in Texas, and not even accomplished in Minnesota, for possibly-different reasons), ... the university will declare suspension of rules when it chooses to, with exigency given as an excuse for possibly not keeping prior promises.

So, this phrase in your contract is not a "red flag", especially when it arises in Texas at a state school.

Yes, based on past experience of my own, there will be bad financial times every 10 or 15 years, and there'll be a lot of talk... But, in my experience, nothing came of it (either positive or negative). The only thing that did affect my pay was the Covid pandemic... The effect was not nearly as bad as it might have been, thankfully.

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