September 24, 2002

23 Ag School Staff Fired

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At least 23 staff members of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences — including 11 in Applied Economics and Management (AEM) alone — were recently notified that they will be laid off, according to College administrators.

“We will do our utmost to maintain quality, but the fact remains that our faculty will experience considerably reduced support and this can’t help but cause changes in how much we do and the quality of what we do,” stated Andrew M. Novakovic, Chair of AEM in an e-mail.

Targeted staff worked in faculty support, department support, and information technologies.

“This will impact our ability to conduct outreach programs as well as teaching programs,” Novakovic said.

The agriculture college faces money troubles including flat funding from the state of New York, the end of some federal research grants, and lower returns on endowments invested in the stock market, according to Mary Lou Doyle, assistant dean for human resources.

“It’s a very difficult time for the college,” Doyle said. “Departments are having a very difficult decision-making process.”

Meanwhile, inflation has increased expenses, creating a budgetary gap of approximately 4 percent in AEM, about $10 to 11 million, according to Novakovic.

“With 97 percent of our core budget related to people, it is not possible to effect a serious budget change without impacting [staff] positions,” he said.

An additional difficulty was that Novakovic was limited in options.

“[L]arge parts of the department budget could not be touched by these cuts either because they involved tenured faculty lines or because they derive from contract and grant funding,” he said.

AEM has approximately 46 faculty, 35 to 40 academic and professional staff and 25 to 30 administrative support staff, according to Novakovic. Between 700 and 750 students major in AEM and between 4,000 to 5,000 students enroll in AEM courses every year.

The last time AEM had to lay off employees was 1996-1997, according to Novakovic, when a smaller budget cut was mandated.

The College is seeking to take care of those whose positions are being eliminated by providing them with an early notice, career counseling, and opportunities to find other jobs in the agriculture college.

While law requires that employees be given 30 days notice of their layoffs, Doyle said that employees have been given four months notice.

“We are trying to make a very unpleasant situation as kind as possible,” Doyle said.

One person who will be laid off has already found another job in the agriculture college, according to Doyle, who said that there are currently seven open positions in the college.

“We are not allowing anyone outside the college to be hired into these key jobs,” she said.

Doyle expressed optimism about the prospects of those laid off finding new jobs.

“We have almost 1,000 non-academic positions,” she said, and while research grants occasionally end early, new grants occasionally come in.

“We anticipate that most if not all will be placed into positions in the college,” she said.

The layoffs were not part of the larger Workforce Planning Team, which implemented a hiring freeze last year after Sept. 11 that lasted until April, according to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

Cornell’s other contract colleges, which receive funding from New York State, are also under strain. According to Dullea, they collectively face a gap of approximately $20 million.

“The tuition increases being adopted would fill about half that, but they wouldn’t fill it all,” he said.

Decreases in expected revenue post-Sept. 11 mean that the State’s budget is likely to go into the red, necessitating painful cuts.

“[Decreased revenue] may result in cutbacks occurring even during this year,” Dullea said. “For the next year, unless we see a turnaround in the economy and especially the stock market, it will probably be a very difficult budget year in 2003-2004.”

Archived article by Peter Norlander