Facing a proposed 20 percent cut in state funding, the University of Arizona is offering an incentive for some faculty to retire.

The voluntary retirement incentive program would give eligible employees one year's pay for agreeing to retire at the end of the school year.

About 250 employees are eligible, said Allison Vaillancourt, UA vice president for human resources.

Eligible tenured faculty and certain staff workers will receive letters, according to an announcement made Tuesday. Among the requirements are a minimum age of 65.

In 2008, 26 percent of faculty were age 60 or older.

While there is the up-front expense of paying for the incentives plus paying others to cover the classes they would have taught if they'd stayed, the UA will realize some savings from the retirements.

The UA had resisted offering buyouts because leaders were concerned about losing top teachers and researchers. But Vaillancourt said the UA must now use all of its budget-cutting options.

"It's just one more tool that we're using to deal with our budget reduction," she said.

Vaillancourt said she did not know how much money could be saved. The deadline to accept the buyout is mid-March.

Faculty chairwoman Wanda Howell said it's a good opportunity for faculty members who were already thinking about retirement.

"It gives the university one more way to manage the budget cuts that are headed our way," said Roger Dahlgran, a faculty leader who chairs a committee on academic personnel policy.

"It's voluntary. Nobody's being forced to do anything," he said. "I think it's a good strategy for the university and potentially beneficial to the faculty."

Gov. Jan Brewer's plan to balance next fiscal year's budget includes a $170 million cut to the state's three-university system. The UA's share would be $66.6 million - about 20 percent of this year's state appropriation, which is about $345 million. The proposal needs approval by the Legislature.

The UA and its students already have shouldered about $100 million in state budget cuts since 2008. UA leaders increased student tuition and fees, consolidated academic units, cut 600 jobs and plugged some budget holes with federal stimulus money.

When Northern Arizona University offered a similar program last year, 40 of 125 eligible employees took the buyout, saving the school about $2 million, said NAU spokesman Tom Bauer.

NAU will offer the program again this year for 140 eligible employees and expects to save $3 million, he said. The cash incentive is worth 90 percent of the employee's base salary.

Arizona State University is also offering a similar program to 330 faculty members.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 807-8012.

University of Arizona employee salary information as of October 2010