February 10, 2009

17 Workers Laid Off In ILR Outreach Cuts

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Last month, Harry Katz, dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said there will be 17 layoffs in the ILR Extension Division by June 2009 due to state funding cuts. The ILR Extension is an outreach division with offices in Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Albany, Long Island and Rochester that conducts research and teaches labor-related courses and seminars to adults.
The decision to lay off Extension employees is based on a strategic decision to maintain the quality of Extension programs by letting go of excess administrative staff and areas of Extension programs that were not financially sustainable, according to Katz.
Extension is divided into different thematic groups that focus on different areas of research and instruction. In October, the Work Place Industry and Economic Development group, one of the thematic groups, was disbanded. WEID staff not integral to other thematic groups were given notice that they would be let go in June, leaving enough time to finish projects. Some WEID staff were also transferred to other Cornell positions.
With all groups and programs across Extension facing cuts, a core group of administrators and leaders of Extension programs looked at the financial sustainability of different thematic groups and considered which groups were bringing in more revenue and which were in deficit. “That group was having a particularly difficult time becoming financially sustainable. They were working at it for the past three years and there was an indication that they might not ever get there,” Katz said.
The programming developed by WEID was good programming, but there was not a great enough demand for it, according to Katz. Rather than layoff staff from various groups, disbanding all of WEID was the most beneficial option to all of Extension.
“We looked at the viability of certain programs … In situations like this we have to make a determination where we can support programs that have the highest impact,” Susanne Bruyere, ILR School associate dean of outreach and director of Employment and Disability Institute, said.
The WEID layoffs have the greatest impact on the Buffalo Extension office, where the group was based, and includes four union positions whose layoffs were bargained by the Communication Workers of America, a media and communications union, according to Joe Grasso, assistant dean for finance and administration in ILR.
Different parts of Extension are trimmed down during all periods of economic recession, and labor areas were having a difficult time meeting financial goals, while other areas were in stronger demand, Grasso said.
Initially there was concern among some Extension employees that the labor programs were being targeted before other programs in the first round of layoffs. These concerns were later dispelled when it became clear that all Extension programs were facing budget cuts, said an Extension employee in November. The employee wished to remain anonymous out of fear of being targeted for speaking out against the extension.
Though Extension employees are currently upset by the layoffs, laid-off employees have been less apt to fight the University due to the overall state of the economy. The largest objection to the layoffs has been in regard to employees with 20 or more years of service who were laid off. Remaining Extension programs are now under more pressure to generate revenue, the employee stated last week in an e-mail.
Since 2000, there have been three layoffs, due in part to the demands of the professional teaching industry, which has been affected by the overall economic recession. If there is a future demand or need for programs or thematic groups that have been disbanded, those needs will be met, Grasso said.
In other efforts to conserve funds, some professional courses in Extension have been converted to online courses on eCornell, as part of efforts to save funding. “Custom higher end” courses will continue to be taught face-to-face, but offering larger, introductory courses through eCornell allows more students to access the courses, Katz said.
Many organizations served by Extension cannot afford to travel to take courses or seminars, Bruyere said. “We really feel a responsibility to offer them services,” she said.
“We have an obligation on the Extension side to meet the needs of the state. When we have a course, why no open it up to outside the state as well,” Katz said.