A student rally last Friday in support of USM staff facing layoffs attached a few faces to the rumors of shadowy eliminations of USM staff members as a part of the university’s most recent attempt to cut costs.
Though the majority of the faculty retrenchments and eliminations announced as part of the same initiative have been reversed, staff cuts have proceeded throughout the year.
“Staff cuts are going on behind the scenes, I don’t even know who’s been cut,” said USM library employee and virtual imaging associate Adinah Barnett at the rally, which the #USMFuture group organized.
“I’m glad to be speaking as a current USM employee, and I sure hope to stay that way,” Barnett said.
Barnett was one of three current staff members to speak at the rally, The speakers also included one former staff member–Will Dunlay, the former director of energy and utilities in Facilities Management.
“People are also scared to even come to the event,” said junior women and gender studies major and one of the event’s organizers Meaghan LaSala to the Free Press afterwards. “I think that points to the precariousness of the position people are in.”
There have been 26 staff layoffs in fiscal year 2014, comprised of 15 salaried staff members and 11 hourly staff members, according to Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell.
“Certainly, if current trends hold, I think it’s certain we’ll be looking at additional cuts in [fiscal year 2015],” Caswell told the Free Press.
However, he explained, no further staff cuts will take place until after May 31, which is when the Faculty Senate’s alternative cost-saving measures for the university are due to be presented to Kalikow.
“We’ll evaluate those cost-saving alternatives after May 31, and the next step would be to make a determination on any additional staff cuts,” Caswell said.
Jim Bradley, president of the USM chapter of UMPSA, the professional staff union, expanded on what those cost-saving measures might look like. “[Kalikow] said that the Faculty Senate must come up with $1.2 million in faculty compensation savings as an alternative to the 12 rescinded retrenchments. She will not accept savings they come up with from other areas as she still believes we have too many faculty, and she’s given the senate a chance to propose their own cuts,” Bradley told the Free Press in an email.
Caswell confirmed the faculty recommendations must come from academic programs, and added that the amount of savings the faculty senate were expected to produce was, in fact $1.26 million.
LaSala told the Free Press she felt that the fact that there will be considerably fewer students on campus after the end of the spring semester played into the May 31 date.
Kalikow responded to LaSala’s statement in an email. “There will be far fewer students on campus, but that’s a reflection on the fiscal year schedule, not on any kind of effort to delay decisions until after the end of the academic year,” she said. “The fiscal year ends on June 30. It’s always a mad rush this time of year to finalize budget decisions. This year has been especially tough so decisions are getting pushed through commencement and beyond as we prioritize and evaluate cost-saving strategies.”
Kalikow also responded to a sentiment that pervaded the rally and was expressed by a majority of the speakers––that the cuts should be made ‘from to top,’ that is, they should be cuts to the salaries and positions of upper-level administrators, rather than faculty and staff.
The sentiment was echoed by Bradley. “We have too many administrators,” he said. “If Theo is sincere in trying to right-size the university, she can’t just focus on faculty and support staff, she also has to reduce the number of non-represented administrative staff as well.”
Kalikow noted a number of upper-level administrator positions that have been eliminated since late in fiscal year 2013. “On the other hand, I think it can be penny wise and pound foolish to dial back salaries at any level to the point where you have trouble attracting the highest-quality candidate you can afford,” she wrote.
After May 31, Caswell said, the administration will look at staff cuts again, but the specifics of those cuts, he said, will be left to the discretion of individual units, although those units might be assigned financial targets.
Two weeks ago, Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences told the Free Press that she had been told that staff cuts would not impact her college’s reorganization, a step Provost Stevenson has asked all of the colleges at the university to begin.
For students involved in #USMFuture, said LaSala, the next step is to continue to work as a part of a state-wide coalition to make higher education funding reform a ballot issue in the coming election season.
In terms of what’s next for specific staff cuts, Caswell said, “I wouldn’t expect many additional staff cuts in the remains of the fiscal year. There may be, there may not.”