February 13, 2011

Cornell Cuts More Than 700 Support Staff Positions in Two Years

Print More

Over the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the University cut 672 staff positions — approximately nine percent of the total 7,000 non-academic workers at Cornell. Since the start of the current school year, Cornell has cut an additional 61 positions.Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources, said there will likely be further reductions in the summer. She said that the cuts are “the largest downsizing I can recall,” adding that staff reductions have affected “virtually every department.” Still, Opperman maintained that the quality of Cornell’s services has not suffered.  “We are still providing as many of the services [as before],” Opperman said.The 7,000 member workforce includes support staff, such as dining employees, theatre production assistants and maintenance workers. Out of the 672 jobs lost, 105 workers were laid off by the University. Although many of the remaining workers left voluntarily due to annual turnover, others received incentives to leave through the University’s Staff Retirement Initiative, according to Opperman.  To reduce the size of Cornell’s workforce, the SRI gives workers a year base pay to encourage them to leave.“We were trying to do it in a way that was humane and avoid layoffs,” Opperman said.An estimated 200 staff members opted to retire under the SRI in the 2010 fiscal year, according to Opperman. The program’s total results will be published in early 2011.Those who left through SRI received a year’s worth of pay and a 30 percent contribution to their retirement funds.Opperman said the reduction may place a strain on some parts of the University.“It’s hard for a department to go from a staff of 10 to seven and continue serving the same quality to students,” Opperman said. “It’s very difficult for those who remain — we’re asking them to do more things.”One human resource employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was discussing a sensitive topic, worried that the reductions had overburdened the University’s support staff.“Morale is very low among the staff on this campus,” she said.Across the University, administrators said the services provided were not affected. Most declined to give specific examples of the budget cuts and instead deferred questions to the department of human resources at various colleges.More cuts in the workforce will likely continue until fiscal year 2015. “We anticipate by then being fully in balance,” Opperman said.According to Elmira Mangum, vice president for planning and budget, the cuts to support staff were “distributed and felt equitable over the campus.” The reductions were, on average, five to 10 percent in most departments. Administrators made support staff cuts in response to economic needs, Mangum said. She added that administrative offices, support and services suffered the deepest cuts.From a peak of support staff employment in fiscal year 2007, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the College of Engineering have lost 14.4 and 14.8 percent of their support staffs respectively — the most of any other colleges — according to the University’s 2010-2011 Financial Plan. The Engineering College’s human resources office declined to comment.ILR lost more than 45 support staff positions out of its 300-member workforce through “early retirement, layoffs and attrition,” according to Joseph Grasso, the school’s associate dean for finance, administration and corporate relations.The cuts have mainly affected administrative work, as the school tries to buffer students from the brunt of the cuts, Grasso said. He added that many employees are now doing the work that two people used to perform.“There are very few additional opportunities for savings, so any additional budget reductions are becoming increasingly hard to achieve,” he said. Administrators at Day Hall eliminated several vice provost and vice presidential positions — such as the vice president for risk management — Opperman said.Most administrators contacted for this article declined to comment or give specific examples, citing the sensitive nature of employee layoffs. The Cornell library system lost 30 to 35 employees in its 300-member workforce — a nearly 10-percent reduction — according to Lee Cartmill, associate University librarian.Cartmill explained that technological change, such as purchasing e-books, has enabled the library to streamline its operations to accommodate the cuts.Cartmill referred to the closure of the physical sciences library and the consolidation of the Cornell library system as examples of reduced costs. Like Grasso,  Cartmill said the library tried to minimize the cuts’ effects on students and faculty by making “reductions in back offices or administrative areas.”He added that a “fair amount of work was absorbed by the staff that remained.”Other administrators agreed, explaining that the cuts in support staff have increased the workloads for remaining employees.The department of theatre, film and dance will lose 13 support-staffers by May 2011, including production managers and other stage help, according to a faculty memo.  At Cornell Dining, Karen Brown, director of campus life marketing and communications, said that a dozen employees opted for early retirement, leaving their positions vacant.Cornell Dining closed a few eating establishments, including Tower Café, Alfalfa Room and Ciabatta’s, in response to the staffing cuts, Brown said.The current staff total for the 2011 fiscal year stands at 7,042. The University is the main employer in Tompkins County and one of the largest in the state.The median salary for support staff stood at $33,885 in Fiscal Year 2007, according to the “Cornell Economic Impact on New York State,” a document released by the University detailing Cornell’s impact on upstate New York. The administration has not released more recent payroll data.The staff reductions are part of the administrative streamlining program, a multi-year program that garnered savings of $12.2 million — less than the stated goal of $14.4 million.The streamlining program is scheduled to continue for the next few years, according to Mangum. “We underwent a review of all administrative areas: Each dean and vice president looked at their budget and decided, in a multi-year strategy, how they would deal with the reduced staffing,” Mangum said.Opperman expressed hope that there will not be many more large-scale reductions. She added that this hope is contingent on the funding the University receives from New York State.  “Hiring will eventually rebound,” Opperman said. “But I don’t see a time where there will be as many positions as in the past.”

Original Author: Max Schindler