Revenue concerns recently led the California legislature to cut the University of California (UC) budget by $813 million in the fiscal year ending August 31, 2010. Some of that cut was absorbed by the medical schools in California, and rheumatology divisions were no exception. What the long-term effects will be on clinical care, teaching, and research is a major concern for the state’s leaders in rheumatology training.
In order to meet the budget shortfall, the regents of the UC system ordered a furlough of state-paid employees. The depth of the cut depended on the person’s salary—the higher the salary, the greater the percentage that had to be saved using unpaid time off.
“The way it worked, furloughs were scaled based on salary, with the highest earners potentially losing more, up to 10% of their state-funded pay at the highest levels,” says Arthur Weiss, MD, PhD, professor and chief of rheumatology at the UC campus in San Francisco (UCSF). “However, only about 9% of the medical school at UCSF budget comes from the state with the vast majority coming from research grants or professional fees earned through patient care. A large part of the furlough penalty could be offset by these other sources.”
Take, for example, a faculty member making $160,000 a year. Of this figure, suppose that comes 90% from research grants or professional fees and is exempted from the furlough. This doctor’s salary reduction under the furlough program was 10% of the portion of the $160,000 coming directly from the California state budget. This, along with a mandate from the regents that the cuts were not to impact classroom teaching or medical care, meant that there were many differences or inequities in how the cuts were actually implemented.
The budget line that would take the biggest hit financially was in the area of research. “With clinical and classroom activities exempted, all of the furloughs have to come from a faculty member’s research time,” says Gary S. Firestein, MD, professor of medicine and chief of rheumatology, allergy, and immunology at UC San Diego. “This is quite difficult, though, when research grants are actually paying the salaries, and we have to reconcile the fact that we have given less time to the research.”
Nonfaculty Staff Cuts
Among those nonfaculty areas taking the biggest cuts were employees in administration and administrative assistants in clinical areas. These are the places where the workers have the highest percentage of pay coming directly from the California budget.