EDINBURG — With a statewide hiring freeze in place until at least August of this year, officials at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley are preparing to begin submitting waivers in order to fill necessary positions, especially for the new School of Medicine.
The freeze was implemented by Gov. Greg Abbott at the end of January as a way to free about $200 million in the current budget, he said. It will affect public university positions funded by state appropriations.
Positions at all 14 UT System campuses and its administration will be affected, according to UT officials, but the scope of the impact is still being assessed and will vary from campus to campus considering funding comes from a variety of funding sources.
“Positions funded with state appropriated funds will not be filled if they become vacant, unless they are deemed so critical we seek a waiver,” said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, UT System spokesperson. “Our hope is that the freeze will not mean that faculty and other positions important to serving our students and patients and advancing our institutions and Texas higher education go unfilled.”
LaCoste-Caputo said it will be up to each campus to file waivers for positions deemed necessary, and the UT System will only send waivers to fill leadership roles, such as that of president of an institution.
At UTRGV there are at least 96 open positions for staff, full-time faculty and temporary faculty. Out of these open positions, at least 36 full-time staff and faculty positions are meant for the new School of Medicine, including the position of dean, which officials said they hoped to fill before June of this year.
The position went vacant in June 2016, when founding Dean Dr. Francisco Fernandez announced he would be stepping down as dean and as vice president of medical affairs.
Leading the school of medicine now as interim dean is Dr. Steven Lieberman, professor and senior dean of medicine at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston.
UTRGV President Guy Bailey said it is too early to know what positions will be affected. But the School of Medicine is in a peculiar situation, he said, considering it is in its first year of existence and positions had to be filled without getting formula funding for its students.
“We’re still doing the initial hiring,” Bailey said. “We need to hire additional people for the second year of the curriculum and some additional people to supervise the expanding number of residencies, and with the state hiring freeze we would be unable to do that.”
With this in mind, the university applied for a special item, or exceptional item, in the state budget process for the entire School of Medicine. So far the item has been carried forward in the House budget but not in the Senate.