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Update: Penn State offers voluntary buyouts to Commonwealth Campus employees

Old Main administrative building
Emily Reddy
Old Main, Penn State's administrative building on the University Park campus.

Pointing to declining enrollment and a need to cut costs at its Commonwealth Campuses, Penn State announced Wednesday that it is offering voluntary buyouts to employees at those campuses and that it has not ruled out layoffs in the future.

The announcement comes as the university has been slashing upcoming budgets and rolling out plans for systemwide reviews of its academic programs. As part of that, the 20 Commonwealth Campuses were already facing a total of about $50 million dollars in budget cuts for fiscal year 2026.

Under the “voluntary separation incentive program,” eligible employees can get a lump sum payment of 12 months’ salary and subsidized health benefits for six months. The offer runs through May 31. It's available to full-time staff members who are not unionized, tenure and tenure-line faculty and academic administrators. The plan is not available to non-tenure-line faculty or adjunct instructors.

Shelli Stine, chair of the Faculty Senate, said she was "shocked" to find out that the university had what seems like a fully-formed plan to offer voluntary separation incentives to tenure and tenure-line faculty and staff at the campuses.

Stine said she understands what the university administration is trying to do, and the idea of trying to give some people a choice is commendable. But, she said, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

"I am deeply concerned about some of this," said Stine, a teaching professor in biobehavioral health. "I'm very concerned about what impact this will have on instruction at the campuses on this very short notice. We've already been planning for fall classes, people already have their teaching assignments. So how will we make sure we have instructors for those classes when we don't have any way of predicting who will take the offer and who won't?"

She said she hopes someone has thought through how the separation plan's impact will be handled.

"It's not clear to me how that's going to happen. And I have not been part of those conversations, but I would hope that someone somewhere has a plan for how we will manage this," she said.

Penn State spokesman Wyatt DuBois said in an email that, the university does not have a specific goal for the number of employees who will participate, and the financial savings to the university will depend on how many people participate. But, DuBois said: "The university has run modeling to determine that pursuing this program will have a positive future impact on the university’s finances."

DuBois said decisions about filling positions will be up to campus leaders and the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses. And, he said: "The possible impacts of this program and any subsequent actions to be taken will depend on many factors, including how many employees participate, impacts on a department or program, and potential additional changes to Penn State’s financial health, among others."

According to the announcement, the university does not have plans “at this time” to offer buyouts at University Park, the law schools or the College of Medicine. But, it said, that could change based on future needs.

And, according to the university's FAQs on the topic, involuntary layoffs could occur in the future and would not include the benefits that are part of the current voluntary buyout program.

In the past year, the Faculty Senate has been holding a number of conversations and presentations with the university administration on the budget shortfalls, new funding methods and plans for academic program reviews. A meeting this week covered the university's new budget method.

"I know there are faculty who were completely caught off guard by this and who do feel — betrayed is not too strong a word," Stine said. "We had asked about voluntary and early retirement programs, and have been told, 'No, we're not thinking about that.' So to suddenly have this fully-formed plan to ask people to voluntarily separate from the university — there are some folks who are feeling like that was sprung on them, and that that was a breach of trust."

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.
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