Forestry school to lay off six

To make up for a budget deficit of about $2.4 million for the 2010-’11 school year, the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies will cut six staff members, combine the school’s library with the Kline Science Library and close one of its research centers, Dean Peter Crane said in an e-mail to the school Tuesday.

The environment school will also not renew the contracts of some non-ladder faculty members, reduce support for another research center and combine the school’s admissions and financial aid offices, he added. Two of the staff members who are being laid off said the budget cuts, though handled professionally, are difficult to swallow.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Crane said the changes, however painful, were necessary to place the school in a better financial position in the future, and will not substantially affect the student experience.

“Obviously, it’s a very difficult time for the school and particularly for the staff who are directly affected,” Crane said. “But it’s also true that we, all of us here, remain optimistic about the future of the school.”

About 50 percent of the environment school’s annual revenue comes from its endowment, the value of which fell from $413 million in June 2008 to $297 million in June 2009, Crane said in the e-mail. The budget cuts, he added, will reduce the school’s budget deficit for the 2010-’11 academic year to $1 million. While the school made significant cuts last year without cutting any of its 82 staff members, it was unable to do so this year, Deputy Dean Alan Brewster said.

To raise revenue, there will be a new $250 student activities fee, Crane said. The school hopes to have 138 masters degree students matriculate in the fall, he added, about the same as in previous years. Ten to 12 doctoral candidates will matriculate for the next academic year, one or two fewer than in recent years, he said.

After this year’s budget cuts, the school should not have to make any more in the near future, Brewster said. For the 2011-’12 school year and the years immediately after, Crane said he expects the school to run a balanced budget.

Two staff members who are slated to be laid off said school administrators are handling the budget deficit professionally. One of them, Deborah DeFord, the communications coordinator for the school’s alumni affairs office, said she sees the experience as an opportunity to grow.

“I’ve never had a change that has not been for the better in the long run,” she said.

Martha Smith FES ’00, whose position is also being cut, said she was disappointed but not surprised by Crane’s announcement. As the director of the Center for Coastal and Watershed Systems, one of the programs that were cut, Smith said the center’s demise had been hinted at during several school-wide meetings about the environmental school’s financial troubles in the previous months. While Smith tried seeking grants to save the center, funding was tight everywhere, she said.

“You know where your funding comes from,” Smith said. “If your financial backing is under constraints, you know you’re in trouble.”

Troy Hill FES ’15, who has used the center’s resources for his research on wetlands, said the closing of the center was “tragic.” The environment school performs little coastal research, he said, and it is unclear who will fulfill Smith’s role.

A majority of the 19 students interviewed said they were most disappointed about the loss of non-ladder faculty members, some of whom who have taught at the environment school for many years. The annual committee that reviews non-ladder faculty members to renew their contracts has been much stricter this year, Brewster said. Although the review process is still ongoing, the committee has already notified some non-ladder faculty that their contracts will not be renewed, he added.

“Some of our most valuable teachers here are non-ladder [faculty members,]” said Emily Biesecker ’08 FES ’10.

Several students also said they were disappointed about the merger of the school’s library with the Kline Science Library, which will begin after the end of the spring semester. Alark Saxena FES ’14 said the school’s library has been “something special.”

Despite the budget cuts, most students said they trust Crane, who became dean in September 2009, to monitor the environment school’s financial future.

“I think most people trust Dean Crane and his decision making,” Rae Wynn-Grant FES ’10 said. “Laying people off was probably the last resort.”

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