Bracing for more bad news from the state of California, Hastings College of the Law is forgoing some raises and scaling back on hiring, and has asked department heads to shave 5 percent from their current operating budgets.

As the state wrestles with one of the biggest financial disasters in its history, Hastings administrators are anticipating an unstable state budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the likelihood of more cuts next year.

Last fiscal year, the San Francisco school received $10 million from the state — just over a quarter of its academic budget.

The trimming comes at a time when higher education institutions across the country are reporting salary and hiring freezes. Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced this month that it would keep faculty and nonunion staff salaries flat next year and put recruiting on hold.

Unlike other University of California (UC) law schools, Hastings is a separate line item on the state budget, and negotiates with legislators independently of the UC system, said Hastings Dean Nell Newton. On her most recent trip to Sacramento, she added, one of the legislators told her that she can expect more cuts this fiscal year. She doesn’t want to be caught off guard well into the academic year.

“What if as late as April or March of this year, in the third quarter, they cut 5 or 10 percent out of our budget? Where would we get the money?” she said. “So we’re just being cautious.”

It’s unclear how other law schools in the UC system will proceed.

UC-Berkeley School of Law spokeswoman Susan Gluss said that the school is still formulating its financial strategy. Some kind of staff and faculty hiring freeze may be on the table, she said. “There’s no talk of across-the-board department budget cuts now at the law school,” she added.

At Hastings, Newton said the school will try to avoid raising student fees for 2009-10 beyond the already planned 13 percent. The 5 percent cuts she’s asked for won’t affect salaries or financial aid, she added.

But Hastings faculty and staff won’t get the cost-of-living or general salary increases they expected in January, Newton said, though staff and eligible professors will get merit increases. There will be no merit increases for senior administrators, however. Newton said she turned down a board-approved 4 percent merit increase to her salary.

Hiring will also take a hit. The school added nine new faculty members in the last two years. For 2009-10, only two will be added, instead of four; faculty hiring plans for the following year are on hold altogether.

The measure of impact on faculty and staff depends on whom you ask.

Academic Dean Shauna Marshall said the cuts would have no effect on students, who will get the same benefits and programs. Marshall will trim money from travel to conferences and symposia, events for the office and speakers. “The changes I’m making are really not noticeable,” she said. “I’ll probably not take one trip that I would’ve taken.”

But professor Joel Paul, head of the school’s international programs, said that the 5 percent cut represents $9,000 from his budget, and will mean less money to fund international summer stipends and scholarship money for international students. He also won’t be able to add a staffer to help coordinate exchange programs.

The outlook for 2009-10 is also not good. In a November memo to staff and faculty, Newton said that budget reductions for next year could be as severe as those in the mid-2000s, when state funding was reduced by 50 percent over two years. Payouts from the endowment fund, which is down some 20 percent and supports scholarships and research support, will also be lower, she said in the memo.

Hastings Chief Financial Officer David Seward said he asked department heads for their proposals by the first week of January. “The [state budget] process is nonfunctional, and that’s scary,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s prudent on our part to wait for an outcome that may be delivered to us in March, in which case we’d have three months to absorb any cuts that would’ve been intended for a full year.”