Challenge is to 'Maintain Momentum' in Uncertain Times, Barker Tells Faculty and Staff

November 24, 2008

CLEMSON, SC – November 24, 2008 – Clemson University President James F. Barker told a town hall meeting Friday that the university’s current challenge is “how to maintain momentum and make progress in an era of economic uncertainty.”

More than 200 faculty and staff members gathered at the Strom Thurmond Institute and staff members from 722 different IP addresses logged in to a live stream to hear an update on the budget and plans for the future.

After announcing mandatory furloughs to help balance this year’s budget, Clemson is assembling 11 task forces that will be charged with making additional cost-cutting and revenue-generating recommendations and strategic decisions that protect core programs, minimize impact on students and position Clemson to emerge as a stronger university. Clemson has sustained $26 million in state funding cuts since July 1, 2008.

Barker said these will not be large committees with 20 or so people that meet and write a “white paper” report at the end. “These will be small groups with a very specific charge, deadline and financial target.”

Barker said the senate bodies representing faculty, staff and students have identified individuals to serve on each task force, which will be staffed with a resource group to provide research and budget figures.

After the work of the task forces is complete in February, Clemson will develop a plan and get feedback before it is presented to the board of trustees in April. Implementation will begin in June.

Barker also used this meeting to report on the One Clemson Furlough Relief Fund, created to help employees who face the most severe financial hardships. “The first response to the furlough was faculty and staff thinking of those at the lower end of the pay scale,” said Barker. “To borrow the words of President Abraham Lincoln, ‘everybody is finding the better angels of our nature.

He went on to say that he would not receive an accounting of who contributes to the fund. “Don’t give because you feel obligated. Give if it will make you feel good to help.”

When asked how faculty should handle the furlough and fulfill their teaching, research and service requirements, Barker said, “Be careful about trying to send a message by just not showing up for class.” Barker urged faculty to take the furlough in small increments and coordinate with others in their college or department so that things are not left undone.

In answer to specific questions from the audience, Barker said:

  • Clemson is re-focusing fundraising toward unrestricted giving,
  • outsourcing of some departments is a possibility and
  • all solutions to cutting the budget are on the table.

Barker does not anticipate cutting ties with the state of South Carolina despite a 40-year pattern of decreased state support.

“Our DNA is tied to this state,” said Barker. “I don’t know how you erase that. But the state has cut our budget and tied our hands. We have to have some regulatory relief” to get things done and be more entrepreneurial.

Barker acknowledged the seriousness of the situation but appeared optimistic that Clemson would survive and thrive. “We are in the forever business,” he said.