March 31, 2009

Economy Claims 41 Staff Positions in Alumni Office Reorganization

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The changing face of the University will continue with the realigning of the Alumni Affairs and Development Office, which is implementing a strategic plan to tighten up resources and increase efficiency. Although the nation’s dismal economic climate was an impetus for the reorganization, the plan has been in the making for a year and a half.
“We’ve been doing strategic planning for about 18 months,” said Charles Phlegar, vice president of AAD. “Over the summer, we took reports from six committees that had looked at our organization. The financial catastrophe … heightened the need to perform more quickly.”
AAD is the major institution in charge of fundraising at the University. It is one of the first major departments to undergo realignment, and part of the strategic plan includes layoffs.
“We eliminated 76 positions,” Phlegar said. “Out of that, there were 41 layoffs … In this new environment, we just can’t continue doing what we’re doing.”
Twenty-nine of the layoffs were in Ithaca, while the rest were done in the department’s other regional branches. Additionally, there were 17 reassignments of positions. Among those reassigned was Corey Earle ’07, who is in the midst of transferring to a new position as Associate Director of Student Programs in the alumni affairs section of AAD. Earle, a former individual giving associate who worked with alumni to raise funds, said he is grateful to have kept his job, and is relatively optimistic about the new plan.
“I joined the division in April of 2008,” Earle said. “AAD was already in the process of developing the strategic plan. I feel fortunate to transfer to this new area of alumni affairs.”
After April 30, a full-on transition to the new plan will take effect, with the official implementation date set for June 30. The strategic plan seeks not only to save the University money, but also to increase the effectiveness of AAD.
“Right now we’re a pretty centralized organization,” Phlegar said. “We’re moving to a more hybrid model. Part of this model is engaging more faculty and alumni. Engaging the faculty is a key component.”
Many positions, including some individual giving associates like Earle, are being eliminated. Whereas department members previously worked in small hierarchical groups, the new system involves larger “pods” of up to 16 giving officers.
“In some sense, it makes the system more efficient, it’s more of an assembly line,” Earle said. “On the other hand, you may lose some of the personal touch.”
Additionally, AAD will be saving money by in-sourcing, which Phlegar explained involves allocating responsibility for crucial services to University providers. This aspect of the plan includes ceding technological control to Cornell Information Technologies.
One of the more dynamic facets of the plan involves the exploitation of technology. Phlegar explained that social networking tools such as Facebook will be utilized to better connect alumni to the University.
“For people 35 and above, it’s completely new to them,” Phlager said, referring to the plethora of technological communication devices available. “The technology is so advanced now, there are better ways to do things.”
More development officers will be placed in major cities such as New York and D.C., where Phlegar said the vast majority of alumni business takes place. Having these officers close to places of action will allow for greater reciprocation in receiving gifts and developing connections.
Despite the inevitable personnel cuts, the plan has the potential to be an exciting step forward for the University.
“When Skorton announced all units at Cornell are taking budget cuts, we were all expecting there to be some changes,” Earle said. “In the long run, I think a lot of the changes will be beneficial to the AAD. But I’m sad to see so many colleagues lose their jobs, and I know that a lot of staff members are under stress because of the changes.”