Community Feels Impacts of Staff Layoffs, Braces for Faculty Cuts

Kailene Nye and Megan Oldak

The university community is feeling the effects of staff layoffs as it awaits an unknown number of cuts to the faculty.

Ryan Krisiak, sophomore government, law, and national security major, has a work-study job in the library, one of the areas affected by the layoffs. He said while he doesn’t know what the workload was like before the pandemic, he can see how the loss of staff may changes things for work-study students.

“I think that the layoffs will probably result in some work-study programs being stopped because there is no one to oversee them,” he said.

He said he feels he hasn’t been personally affected, but he empathizes with those who have.

“I have sympathy for those who were laid off because the circumstances were unusual and uncontrollable.”

David Rehm, Vice President of Academic Affairs and co-chair of the budget committee, said the pandemic has caused a decrease in the number of enrolled freshmen as well as the number of resident students.

Rehm said 24 employees were laid off in May and an additional 58 were temporarily furloughed. He added that while 52 of those who were furloughed were able to return in August, five of those positions had to be moved to permanent layoffs due to a lack of work.

“I have said goodbye to valued colleagues,” he said. “As a leader of the university, I have felt the fragility of our work in a very challenging time.”

Dr. Thomas Botzman, former university president, played a role in the reduction of staff, according to Rehm. Rehm did not provide details of the decision-making process.

Joseph Curran, faculty senate co-chair, expressed sympathy for the administration in charge of making these decisions.

“I think it’s always regrettable when you have to lay people off,” he said. “I think it’s always a very unfortunate thing and it’s not easy for the people to make those decisions. They have to balance the good of the institution and the good of the individual people that work there. I know the administration tried to do that as fairly and judicially as possible.”

He said he is confident in the final decisions because of how well the university manages its finances.

“One of the reasons why the university is and has been in a good position is because of very fiscal management. We don’t live outside of our means. They [members of the administration] are very careful to make sure the university doesn’t take on too much debt. We typically end each year in the black. I think leading into the pandemic, this left us in a good position to weather it,” Curran said.

Curran still mourns the loss of employees despite his confidence in the administration’s decisions.

“It’s always hard when you have to say goodbye to people and these are people who did a good job. It wasn’t an issue of job performance, at least I’m fairly certain, in almost every case it wasn’t. It was a matter of the institution making adjustments to stay healthy,” he said.

Rehm said there are currently no plans to rehire staff, as it could take several years for the loss in revenue to begin to normalize. For this reason, it is too early to consider rehiring anyone, he said.

He expects the pandemic will continue to have an impact on the university in the future.

“I am confident that the pandemic will be with us for at least another year, if not two. The university will survive and thrive, but we will need to take steps to put ourselves in a good position for the coming years,” Rehm said.

One of those steps is cuts to faculty. He said while it is too early to know how many faculty will be let go or which departments will be most affected, he confirmed that layoffs will take effect after the close of the spring 2021 semester.

Curran said he hopes the administration handles the faculty cuts as strategically as they did the staff cuts.

“I hope that the university will make smart decisions that are good for the future of the university because, we have invested a lot of time and resources in making people a part of the community and you don’t want to say goodbye to people unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “I have some concerns about that, and I want to make sure that happens in the best possible way.”

He believes those decisions are especially important when looking at where the university wants to be in the years to come, which makes the process even more difficult.

“We can’t just look at next year, we need to look at the next five years, what programs we want to have, what faculty we want to have, how are we going to provide the education we want to provide in the next five years. I don’t think the hard decisions are over yet. I think we are going to be looking at more of those,” Curran said.

He said he predicts the administration’s strategy for the tougher decisions will be to remain flexible.

“It’s such an uncertain world that one of the things I think they, the administration, are trying to do is to preserve some flexibility,” he said. “I suspect they are going to be very careful and try to stay as flexible as possible and try to continue to deliver the best education that we can and not over commit in any one direction on the hopes that things will improve in that front.”

Curran said he is feeling the effects of the layoffs on both a personal and professional level.

“There are a couple people that I’m fond of that are not here anymore and I miss them. That’s very difficult.”

He added that the major adjustment for faculty is learning new ways to teach.

“Some are teaching online, some are teaching in person and with Zoom. We are reaching the point now where some students are out due to quarantine. So, I think everyone’s affected. Some are working harder and differently than they normally do. Others have had more profound negative effects. It’s remarkable to me how people can make these adjustments. People find a way, ” he said.

Rehm said that regardless of what happens in the future, the goal behind every decision he and the administration make is to “live out our mission and provide the best opportunities we can for our students.”

Curran offered an optimistic point of view for the university’s future as it works through the pandemic.

“I have a lot of confidence for the future of the university,” he said. “I don’t need to be happy with every single decision that is made, but I have confidence in the future of the institution. I think that’s what the people who were making these decisions are hoping to put out there, and are hoping people see, their attempt to keep the university moving in a positive direction, keep it strong.”