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UT System Institutes "Soft" Hiring Freeze, Considers Layoffs

As part of what Chancellor Bill McRaven is calling an "organizational assessment," the University of Texas System has implemented a "soft" hiring freeze and is considering layoffs, according to a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune.

A look at the sun setting over the University of Texas at Austin Tower in 2011.

As part of what Chancellor Bill McRaven is calling an "organizational assessment," the University of Texas System has implemented a "soft" hiring freeze and is considering layoffs., according to a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune. 

About 50 jobs that are currently vacant will be eliminated, McRaven wrote, and the system is developing a voluntary buyout program for employees who are eligible for retirement. In addition, some employees could lose their jobs, the memo indicated. 

"I want to be very candid with all of you," McRaven wrote in the memo to staff. "We are also looking at a Reduction in Force [RIF] that may occur after we determine the extent of the voluntary separation. If it is determined in September that RIFs are necessary, we will work extremely hard to ensure those being considered are notified as soon as possible and treated with the dignity and respect that is the hallmark of the system."

The cuts would apply specifically to the system offices, not UT-Austin or any of the other member universities. 

At the same time, the system plans to start implementing a 2 percent merit salary increase program that will be available to top employees within the 600-person system offices. 

"The steps outlined above are designed to better address our priorities, improve alignment with the campuses and streamline the bureaucracy," McRaven wrote. 

The memo didn't detail what specific departments might be at risk. McRaven wrote that the system is evaluating 40 existing programs or projects that have already been funded by the UT System Board of Regents. 

"We expect to reduce, eliminate or re-prioritize some," he wrote. 

A portion of the money saved will go toward a list of major projects that McRaven has proposed, which he calls "quantum leaps." Those projects include efforts to improve literacy among school-aged Texas children, build a leadership program available to all UT System students, open a new system campus in Houston and create research networks devoted to national security and brain health.

The Houston project in particular has generated some controversy. Leaders of a task force designed to come up with a plan for the site are expected to update the public on their work next week.  

The adjustments come as the UT System and other higher education institutions face heightened scrutiny in the Texas Legislature over their spending. All of the UT System schools, along with most other universities in the state, have raised tuition in the past year. Some lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, are calling for tuition hikes to end. Higher education leaders, meanwhile, have complained that state funding for higher education hasn't kept up with inflation. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas System and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. Find a complete list of donors and sponsors here

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