Panel cautions against layoffs
By Tatiana Cooke, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Updated on Feb 24 | 1:18 pm
Students, faculty and union employees banded together on Monday for a panel discussion that overwhelmingly focused on potential layoffs at Dartmouth. As the College prepares to address a two-year, $100 million budget deficit, the panelists of “Get Informed: Staff Representation in the Budget Cuts” said they hope the Board of Trustees will take suggestions from the Service Employees International Union and Students Stand with Staff into account during the their meeting this weekend to discuss the budget plan and potential layoffs.
“If everything is on the table, which is what [College President] Jim [Yong] Kim and [Dean of the Faculty and acting Provost] Carol Folt have said, why is a position of no layoffs not on the table?” panelist and history professor Annelise Orleck said.
Eric Schildge ’10, the co-founder of Students Stand with Staff, outlined his organization’s demands of the College administration, which included a delay in all layoffs until union discussions have concluded, a ban on subcontracting staff positions, a definition of the “Dartmouth Experience” and an explanation of how budget cuts will affect the “Experience.”
The panel attributed some of the current financial difficulty to endowment mismanagement by the College’s Investment Office and Board of Trustees. Students Stand with Staff demanded that the administration make its investment process more transparent and that the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility — an organization that currently makes recommendations about the College’s shareholder involvement — receive power to influence investment priorities, Schildge said.
“There needs to be a much larger conversation going on about how the College manages its investments,” Schildge said.
Schildge called for the release of the raw budget data behind the $100-million reduction goal. The Tuck School of Business, the economics department and other academic resources should be employed to formulate an analysis of the College’s financial situation independent of the College administration, he said.
Students Stand with Staff also asked for improvements in how the administration processes budget reduction suggestions submitted online by students, staff and community members, calling on the College to release more information about how the suggestions will be incorporated into the larger financial plan, Schildge said.
Unclear communication from administrators has left many students confused about the way that the $100-million reduction goal will be reached, Schildge said.
“It’s really tough to get from administrators exactly how we got to this point and exactly where we go from here,” he said.
Schildge also said that the timing of the announcement of the budget goals — which occurred during finals period of Fall term — meant that many students only recently became aware of the Board’s impending meeting to approve of Kim’s plan. The long-term enactment of the plan that is ultimately approved will likely lead to at least 200 staff layoffs, according to Schildge.
“We already know that they have a plan for us,” Schildge said. “We’re trying to figure out what the numbers are.”
The Service Employees International Union met with the College administration on Friday to discuss what they can do together to avoid layoffs, SEIU Local 560 Vice President and panelist Chris Peck said during the discussion. There is another meeting between the administration and SEIU scheduled for Tuesday, he said.
Union layoffs will not occur until after negotiations with the SEIU have taken place, Peck said. Non-union staff, however, may lose their jobs starting this month.
Students who believe that the current layoffs will help reduce “glut” in the current staff do not realize that the number of College staff members has actually decreased since 2002, Schildge said. According to Peck, Facilities Operations and Management has been reduced by 30 positions since last year, and more than 30 union members have recently retired, 16 of which worked for FO&M.
Peck said he was concerned about the potential use of seasonal employees to fill the staffing shortage. The workers will not have the same concern for student well-being and are unlikely to receive benefits like health care, Peck said.
“It’s not just the union area, there are different areas where they are thinking of subcontracting – the administrative assistants are terrified,” he said.
Many non-union employees are afraid of speaking out about their situation, Peck said. He explained that the posters around Dartmouth put up by Students Stand with Staff only have photos of union members.
“Not a single non-union staff member felt comfortable standing in that picture because they felt it would threaten their job,” he said.
Orleck told anecdotes that she had heard during meetings with former College employees about the way that layoffs were conducted last year.
“People who had worked at this institution for 30 years were escorted off campus by security, were told that they couldn’t come back to their office to claim things without setting up an appointment,” she said.
The discussion needs to be driven by values, not by numbers, Schildge said. Audience members expressed support for this statement, one of which said that the “Dartmouth Experience” is tied to “putting people over property”.
“This is, at some level, a conversation about social justice for the members of our own community,” biology and Dartmouth Medical School professor Lee Witters said. “This is very, very close to home. It’s not on some distant shore.”
Possible student action proposed at the meeting ranged from participation in the candlelight vigil in support of the staff, scheduled for Thursday, to one community member’s suggestion that students boycott classes until jobs are protected.
In response to a student’s question about why there was not a wider variety of academic departments represented on the open faculty letter sent to Kim on Jan. 22, Orleck said that many members of the biology and arts departments abstained from signing because they do not want to delay the construction of the new Visual Arts Center and Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center. She said that she is reaching out to other departments including the economics department.
The open letter from faculty included the proposition that pay cuts across the pay scale take place, a suggestion that requires further discussion among faculty and staff, she said.
“One of the things that Dean Folt said that we took to heart is that we really need to work with our own colleagues now,” Orleck said.
Orleck also discussed the possibility of adding a surcharge to the tuition payments of students who do not receive financial aid while leaving financial aid untouched. Some audience members expressed concern that such a charge would push high-quality students to other schools.
The Student Assembly is unlikely to take action until the College has released more information, Assembly policy chair David Imamura ’10 said at the meeting.
“[The Assembly] doesn’t want to hurt its relations with the College,” he said. “They don’t want to take a position until they know what is going out.”
If a large enough group of students bring up a " campus-wide" concern, the Assembly will "become more involved," Student Body President Frances Vernon '10 said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth. The Assembly encourages all students to bring their concerns to General Assembly meetings, Vernon said in the e-mail.
Acting Dean of the College Sylvia Spears attended the first few minutes of the meeting, which was attended by roughly 75 students, faculty and community members. Senior Vice President Steven Kadish arrived as the session drew to a close.
- incorrectly attributed the idea that the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility is student-run and ought to receive power to influence investment priorities to Eric Schildge '10, co-founder of Students Stand with Staff. In fact, the ACIR is overseen by a faculty advisor.*