The University of Iowa's largest college could be faced with cuts of 120 teaching assistant positions in the coming year due to state budget cuts — or maybe not.

Last week, Helena Dettmer, associate dean for undergraduate programs and curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that 40 teaching assistant positions had been cut this year. She said there were planned cuts of 70 to 80 more in the next fiscal year due to an expected cut of $4 million or more.

But University of Iowa spokesman Tom Moore said later that no one knows how many jobs will be eliminated.

"Those numbers are strictly estimates," Moore said. "It's across the board, but the full range of the impact is not known yet."

Moore said the university has rough estimates that could change dramatically based on the number of faculty who take an early retirement offer and the amount of money allocated by the state Legislature in its next session.

"Yes, there's many estimates, but which one to pick is very difficult," Moore said. "There's just so many unknown factors that, I'm sorry, I don't think anyone has a full grasp on what could happen at this point.

"We won't know probably for weeks and months to come."

Dettmer declined to discuss the issue with The Associated Press and referred the matter to university Provost Wallace Loh, who did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Bill Peterson, president of the university's graduate student union, said there were about 100 teaching assistant positions eliminated this year throughout the university, and the union expects another 100 could be cut next year.

"This seems a little more extreme that what we've seen in the past," Peterson said. "In the past, if there were fewer (teaching assistants) in a department one year, then they would hire a higher-than-average amount the next year. This sort of sounds like the university is not providing the funding to the departments for teaching assistant lines."

The number of tenured and tenure-track professors at the University of Iowa has shrunk in the last nine years by about 7 percent, or more than 100 people. At the same time, the number of students has increased by about 8 percent, including a record class in 2008 of 30,561 students.

At Iowa State University, the tighter budget could force the school to eliminate teaching-assistant positions, but the school won't know the number for at least another month.

Iowa State spokeswoman Annette Hacker said it's unlikely teaching assistant positions will be reduced this year because of record enrollment and more classes held. Instead, after state tax revenue forecasts are issued in December, Iowa State will be able to better predict how many positions it will lose.

Iowa State could make a mid-year revision to its budget, but it's not clear if that will be needed, Hacker said.

Hacker said the university was able to stave off some cuts through an early retirement program and the school's share of federal stimulus money.