University of Tennessee President John Petersen on Tuesday announced a mandatory hiring freeze and a moratorium on new academic programs while defending the appointment of former head football coach Phillip Fulmer.
But it's the Fulmer three-month appointment, at $12,500 a month, that drew the ire of a faculty leader.
UT faculty members are experiencing "considerable distress" over Fulmer's appointment as special assistant, Faculty Senate President John Nolt said Tuesday.
"We are at this moment in the middle of campus budget hearings in which we are contemplating laying off many of our nontenure-track faculty," Nolt said in an e-mail message. "This would result in severe course reductions next fall.
"The $37,500 salary that Peterson reportedly would pay Fulmer will pay for 300-400 student seats next year in courses taught by lecturers," Nolt continued.
"Even if Fulmer wound up raising a great deal of money for academics, this is still the wrong message for the system administration to be sending at this very bleak time."
Fulmer's primary role will be "enhancing and developing strategic relationships on behalf of UT," Petersen said Monday.
The appointment expires Feb. 28, and Fulmer will receive standard full-time employee benefits. His salary will be funded privately, according to UT. It is unclear whether donors earmarked money for the position.
It was not disclosed whether Fulmer will continue to have an official position with the university after February.
Petersen declined to respond to Nolt's comments, but he addressed Fulmer's hire in an e-mail message sent to faculty and staff Tuesday afternoon.
"Phillip Fulmer presents us with a unique opportunity to have someone who has brought national recognition in addition to deep, long-standing ties with the entire UT community," Petersen wrote. "He is paid through privately donated funds, and the expectation is that he will help the university raise money that would otherwise not be available to us. I hope you will join in wishing him well in his new role with the University of Tennessee."
Petersen's e-mail message, in preparation for up to $75 million in state budget cuts, puts a moratorium on new academic programs; freezes hiring, renovations, furniture and equipment purchases and nonessential travel; and starts a systemwide process for academic program review.
"We will be working closely together in the days ahead to achieve consistency across the system in how policies and procedures are implemented," Petersen wrote.
Petersen released a policy statement Nov. 21 titled "Application of Reduced Resources," which outlined restrictions imposed on the UT system, its campuses and institutes.
The plans for cost savings include developing a process for handling reductions in force, working with human-resources officials and the general counsel's office "to evaluate any potential adverse impact, provide appropriate advance training and support for managers and establish support services for affected staff," the policy states.
The policy also requires a "selective hiring process" where positions will be filled "in limited areas necessary for the continuity of critical teaching, research and support functions."
A nine-member Faculty Senate Task Force on Criteria and Procedures was formed to develop methods for evaluating possible program cuts, reductions or reallocations.
The task force will recommend criteria to the full Faculty Senate, which will make a final recommendation to the UT administration.
Chloe White may be reached at 865-342-6341.